So who needs fog? Farmers can use it to protect their crops from killer frosts. "On a freezing night my machine will create a blanket that holds temperatures from 10 to 12 degrees warmer inside than the existing temperatures outside," explains Mee, who sneers at smoky smudge pots. From growers in Florida to cherry orchards in Czechoslovakia, some 1,200 Mee machines now toil worldwide.
His fog isn't all work, no play, though. The stuff that swirls at Walt Disney World's laser show is Mee-made, and he's installed it as well for use as "outdoor air-conditioning." At Johnny Carson's Malibu home, a push of a button causes fog to roll from behind the bushes, creating an eerie effect for evening parties; even under a blazing daytime sun. the rapid evaporation of tiny water droplets can bring temperatures down some 30 degrees.
The key to Mee's machine is a patented nozzle that can atomize water droplets to as small as 4 microns (150 mil-Months of an inch). For large-scale agricultural use, Mee's system includes motors, pumps and miles of pipes. For the private fog-o-phile he makes a compact model (base price: $4,500) dubbed the Mee II, which Tom affectionately refers to as his "Meetag."
Born in Louisiana, Mee, 55, earned his chemistry and physics degree from LSU at Baton Rouge, served as a Navy pilot, then joined an affiliated laboratory of Cornell University researching weather modification. Cloud physics led him to fog that, as Mees notes, "is simply a cloud that touches the ground." Settling in Marina del Rey, Calif., where he lives with his wife, Diane, 37, a flight attendant, Mee founded Mee Industries Inc., which now employs 30 (including four of Tom's five children from a first marriage) and has annual sales of $2 million. Mee sees a future when fog will make the deserts bloom and even play a role in outer-space farming. Where will it end? Mee hasn't the foggiest.
Tom Mee is a purveyor of fog, quality fog. Not clouds of steam or that phony stage stuff created from dry ice, but the real thing, the kind you need a trench coat for. Mee's product is so pea-soup thick that you can't see an inch in front of your face, yet so finely vaporized that you don't feel the damp.