Are We Falling Behind China In Weather-Control Technology?

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Here's your first look at a ground-based cloud-seeding system. With drought hitting the Western United States hard, governments are pushing the federal government to spend $25 million on cloud-seeding technology. Meanwhile, China is already spending $100 million to make rain.

Traditionally, cloud seeding has involved dropping a vapor into the clouds (usually silver iodide) that's designed to bond with the water, making it heavier and creating rain or snow. But this ground-based generator is designed to spray upwards into the clouds. According to the Associated Press, many people believe the U.S. is falling behind in the cloud-seeding arms race:

Government agencies and utilities from California to North Dakota spend an estimated $15 million a year on cloud seeding, and the number of projects has jumped by nearly a third in the last decade.

But spending in the United States is far lower than in many other countries. China spends an estimated $100 million a year on cloud-seeding efforts that include using anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers to blast the sky with silver iodide.

"What's going on in the U.S. is tiny," said Arlen Huggins, an associate research scientist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. "There's more being done outside the U.S. than here."

Other countries conducting cloud-seeding research include Australia, France, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Venezuela.


But the National Research Council reported in 2003 that there's no evidence this technique actually works. At the same time, scientists involved in the report say more study and research are needed, and utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric have been doing cloud-seeding for years, saying they've seen an increase in precipitation as a result. (PG&E uses snowmelt in turbine-power plants.)

Another question: whether silver iodide, the chemical used to make water heavier, is safe. Residents of one area where PG&E wants to install seven 20-feet-tall generators are raising questions — but the charmingly named Weather Modification Association insists it's perfectly safe. I love the fact that there's an interest group called the Weather Modification Association.


So with clean water growing scarcer and more precious, are we going to lose the weather-control race before we even know it's happening? And is water laced with silver iodide still considered "clean water"?

Image by AP. [Associated Press]