Cloud Seeding: Making it Rain

Cloud Seeding: Making it Rain

The Western US is historically dry, but the last 22 years were the most parched the region’s been in more than a millennium. In response, multiple states are expanding a program that can create rain. Cloud seeding injects silver iodide into a cloud, speeding up the formation of rain or snow. It’s currently in practice in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and California as part of the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan.

While it might sound like science fiction, there’s solid evidence that cloud seeding works. A 2020 study out of the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that the cloud seeding program in Idaho definitively increased snowfall.

KCRA NBC: Aircraft 'cloud seeding' was done over NorCal this morning..., March 15, 2022.

Why This Matters

Water is an essential element of life, and everything from farming to fire is impacted when there isn’t enough of it. Last year, Lake Mead and Lake Powell -- the largest reservoirs in the US -- hit record lows, and water allocations were cut to multiple states. As California enters its third year of severe drought, extreme wildfires and water consumption cuts are expected. While cloud seeding can increase rainfall by up to 10%, you need a cloud to do it, which during drought times isn’t a guarantee. It also doesn’t address the underlying issues causing the drought.

"Cloud seeding does not fix the drought," Julie Gondzar, Program Manager, Wyoming Water Development Office, told CNN. "You can't break a drought with cloud seeding. It's a tool in the toolbox."

Cloud Seeding Is Global

Beyond the US, other countries are also using cloud seeding to alleviate drought. The United Arab Emirates, which is an arid place even without climate change, is experimenting with the use of drones and flares to carry out the seeding.

Famously, China seeded clouds before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and continues to have a massive operation, even without hosting an international sporting event. The country has used anti-aircraft guns for launching iodide flares and announced plans in 2020 to expand its cloud seeding operation to an area larger than India. The plan, if carried out,  includes creating a “sky river” that would carry moisture from the country’s wetter south to the dryer north.

FOX 13: Dubai artificially creating rainstorms with drones and electricity, July 21, 2021.

DW: Cloud seeding works, but should we still do it?, June 4, 2021.