Making It Rain (More)

Aug 16, 2022

In the west, “cloud seeding” is helping make it rain in the part of the country that needs it most.

Not new, but being improved, cloud seeding was first introduced in the 1940s. When it’s performed by airplanes, “silver iodide, various salts, or charged water is used to encourage the formation of ice particles or rain inside a cloud that falls as snow or rain.”

In Dubai, they’re testing drones which emit highly concentrated lasers to shock clouds and cause water droplets to collect and fall as rain. Domestically, cloud seeding is used in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, with testing happening in Arizona.

The goal? Raise rainfall amounts, add to reservoir storage, and increase the snowpack in the mountains. It goes without saying that stored water is crucial to the west.

It’s working. On average, seeded clouds have between 5-15% more precipitation flux vs. their non-seeded buddies. Dr. Dan Martin, USDA ARS research engineer, said he’s seeing about 25-30% with the positively charged water device that he’s testing.

The proof is in the pudding precipitation. Eric Snodgrass, meteorologist with Nutrien, said they have “long-term statistical evidence from Idaho Power that cloud seeding has put more snow in the mountains.”

Soundbite: “We can only enhance clouds that are suitable for rain,” said Gary Walker, owner and pilot with Seeding Operations and Atmospheric Research (SOAR) in Texas. “The reason for the whole drought is there are few clouds.”

Where this goes: Dr. Martin’s charged water device was selected as a top three finalist in the USDA’s ARSX2021 competition. While he acknowledges the technology won’t be cheap, the benefits may outweigh the costs to increase yields with limited land resources.