Cloud seeding: Making your own rain and snow

Today, 13 November, marks the date back in 1946 when Vincent J Schaefer, American chemist and meteorologist, performed the first cloud seeding experiment, artificially inducing snow by sprinkling clouds with pellets of dry ice from an airplane.

While this first attempt was not completely successful – the artificially created snow evaporated as it fell through the dry air and disappeared before it hit the ground – it showed that the concept of cloud seeding is possible. This resulted in the GE Research Laboratory (where Schaefer was working at the time) receiving funding for further research into cloud seeding and weather modification.

New Zealand – getting enough rain and snow the natural way!
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While initial experiments in cloud seeding was done using dry ice, later substances used include silver iodide, liquid propane and, more recently, salt. Cloud seeding has been done to different extents around the world, in Asia, North America, Europe, Australia and Africa, with China having the world’s largest commercial operation in this domain.

In some of the most recent experimental work in the field of cloud seeding, German scientists at the University of Geneva experimented with firing short infrared laser pulses into the air, the idea being that the pulses might encourage the formation of atmospheric particles which could act as seeding particles in the clouds. According to lead researcher Jerome Kasparian, “the laser pulses generate clouds by stripping electrons from atoms in air, which encourage the formation of hydroxyl radicals. Those convert sulphur and nitrogen dioxides in air into particles that act as seeds to grow water droplets.”

While this work is still at an experimental stage, it has shown promising results in laboratory conditions. A field experiment, where the pulses were aimed at the skies over Berlin, has also shown notable increases in the density and size of water droplets in the area, when measured using weather LIDAR and it is believed that, using the right frequencies and intensities, generation of rain by this means might become a real possibility.

This really feels like science fiction, doesn’t it? Quite incredible to imagine, really!

And of course it immediately reminded me of Kate Bush’s song ‘Cloudbusting’. So herewith, in commemoration of the pioneering work of Vincent Schaefer, father of cloud seeding, the wonderful short film produced for ‘Cloudbusting’ by Kate Bush and Terry Gilliam, starring Donald Sutherland as Wilhelm Reich and Bush as his young son Peter.