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Cloud Seeding


August in far western North Dakota brings to mind a vision of hot summer breezes, 90 degree temperatures, and dry prairie grasses. But due to the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project, farmers in the area aren't completely at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Six counties in western North Dakota - Bowman, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward, Williams and part of Slope - participate in the Cloud Modification Project. This simply means that North Dakota pays $700,000 to help Mother Nature make more rain for her crops, and earns $8 million dollars in increased agriculture. Cloud seeding can boost rainfall 4 to 10 percent. That certainly doesn't sound like a lot of extra rain to the average person, but to the farmer, that can mean an extra inch of water for his crop.

The birth of cloud seeding was in 1946, when scientists at General Electric discovered that silver iodide could make ice form. These days, Fargo-based Weather Modifications, Inc. still uses silver iodide to coax clouds to make rain. However, rain making has gone high-tech these days. The company's Cessna 300-A airplanes have remote sensing instruments that measure wind flow, liquid content in clouds, and precipitation droplets. This information, all fed into weather simulation models, can help direct the airplanes to the right cloud in the right place.

As scientists predict water shortages due to global warming, North Dakota, and other states such as Utah, Colorado and Texas, are looking at cloud seeding as a necessity. But not everyone agrees with cloud seeding. Bill Cotton, who studied weather modification as a grad student 40 years ago, and is currently an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University, claims repeated studies have not proved that cloud seeding works. He says a computer model used to analyze cloud seeding efforts in Colorado showed "not much difference" between seeding and not seeding.

North Dakota and clients around the world, like Morocco, Indonesia and Burkina Faso, continue to hire Fargo-based Weather Modifications, Inc. for its cloud seeding and precipitation enhancement. For some farmers in western North Dakota, cloud seeding is seen as the difference between making a living, or not.

Dakota Datebook written by Jill Whitcomb


"Who'll Start the Rain?"- Elizabeth Svoboda. Popular Mechanics April 2008

"North Dakota Rainmakers"- Dan Gunderson. July 22, 1998. http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199807/22_gunderson_rainmaker-m/

Weather Modification, Inc. http://www.weathermod.com/

North Dakota State Water Commission, NDCloud Modification Project History http://www.swc.state.nd.us/4dlink9/4dcgi/GetContentRecord/PB-299