Cloud Seeding Research Shows Mixed Results for Precipitation

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Bismarck, ND – North Dakota is spending a million dollars on cloud-seeding this year. Seven participating counties are paying $655,000 of that. But is it paying off?

Several studies agree. Cloud-seeding helps reduce hail; some say by 45%.

But its secondary purpose is to increase rainfall. With the worst drought we have seen in decades and recent complaints from farmers, we looked at the data to find out if that is as effective.

Eldean Flynn has been farming a long time.

“Pretty much my whole life,” he said.

And this year, he needs the rain.

“The pasture is where we’re really hurting now,” Flynn said.

Some farmers believe cloud-seeding is part of the problem.

It is a process meant to limit hail and increase rainfall totals.

“Those typical ranges of increases are in that five to ten percent increase on a seasonal basis,” Director of the ND Atmospheric Resource Board Darin Langerud said.

With this year’s drought, some farmers are not convinced.

So we did a simple study and looked at annual totals. In the counties that cloud-seed, we averaged 20-30 years of recent precipitation totals and compared it to 20-30 year-averages from before the counties started cloud-seeding.

Slope County is down 11%, although the entire county does not participate in cloud seeding.

McKenzie County is down 1%.

Bowman County is up 7%.

Williams and Mountrail Counties are up 13$.

Ward County is up 20%.

Burke County just joined the program within the past five years so there was not enough data.

We also found three in-depth studies of North Dakota cloud-seeding. They all had different methods of research and all showed varying levels of confidence.

The first study (An Evaluation of the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project: 1976-1982. By Howard L. Johnson) showed that rainfall increased when cloud-seeding specific types of weather events, 

but it also said that “the results are not statistically significant.”

Another study by The Institute of Atmospheric Sciences in South Dakota found little to no evidence of an effect on the summer-season rainfall. Although it went on the say a small effect might not show up in this analysis. And the state says a small effect can mean a lot. It examined the effect of 5-10% more rain and a reduction in hail damage.

“The 8 most commonly grown crops in the state…the economic benefit was $12-20 million per year in direct benefits and increased production of those crops,” Langerud said.

The best results were found in a thesis by a U-N-D Grad student, Eric Wise. He found an 8% increase in rainfall in the area that was cloud seeded and a 13% increase in rainfall downwind.

That could explain why our data shows a slight increase in McHenry County even though it does not cloud-seed; And why the counties on the western border saw less success. They do not get the downwind effect.

Like at Flynn’s Farm in McKenzie County.

“It really works,” Flynn said.

Despite Ward County’s complaints, he is not giving up on cloud-seeding.

“We’re going to try to make it work somehow,” he added.

Ward County is weighing its options for leaving the cloud-seeding program.

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