In OP's first example, whatever is a more emphatic alternative to what. It might still be a genuine enquiry, but that more emphatic form is more likely in a rhetorical question - with the speaker simply making the point that before XYZ was available, the (contextually-relevant) things we could do were severely restricted, or non-existent.
The second example is definitely rhetorical, with the speaker effectively just asserting that thunderstorms don't care who's on the ship. Which is blindingly obvious anyway, since non-sentient things like thunderstorms don't and can't care about anything. But exactly the same basic syntax applies to the extremely common rhetorical question...
What do I care?
...which never expects an answer, and always means I don't care at all!
Note that what in the "care" examples is effectively an optional element that could be understood as meaning what amount, or to what extent. But exactly the same meanings could be expressed as straightforward rhetorical questions...
Do these thunderstorms care if we have a king on board?
Do I care?
...where in both cases, the "answer" (which the speaker isn't expecting you to actually give) is No!