Cloud Seeding as Drought Worsens over Entirety of the West


As the West basis worsening drought conditions and persistent water shortages, some areas in the West are resorting to cloud seeding to create snow to form future melt that will bring water come spring.

November drought monitor shows grim conditions

The latest report by the US drought monitor for the Western US dated November 16, 2021, shows that, except for western Washington, the entirety of the 11 Western states are under drought conditions. The drought level is mostly severe to exceptional drought. Nearly all of California, Montana, Oregon, and Utah are under extreme to exceptional drought, as is half of Nevada.

And it’s not only the West. According to the report, moderate to exceptional drought covers 40.9% of the United States, including Puerto Rico.

Cloud seeding: An old technology combined with new developments

Some states, Idaho and Wyoming in particular are turning to cloud seeding to generate snow, and in turn, water. The technology isn’t new, it goes back 75 years when most of the methodology was worked out during the 1940s.

Here’s how it works…

The Washington Post explains: “Certain clouds contain large amounts of ‘super-cooled liquid’ water, or water that exists in a liquid state below the freezing point. At temperatures below about minus-5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), adding particles of silver iodide to that water can promote ice crystal formation, resulting in additional snowfall.”

Performed in the winter, the accumulating snowpack melts in the spring and runs downstream where it will replenish reservoirs with water that can be used to irrigate fields, as well as potentially generate hydropower for some states.

Some scientists remain skeptical about cloud seeding, others say it works

As of 2017, over 50 nations were operating cloud seeding programs. However, scientists remain skeptical that the method works at all and are dubious about how effective cloud seeding actually is.

For example, a six-year study conducted by the state of Wyoming from 2008 to 2013 found that cloud seeding in so-called “seedable clouds” could boost reciprocation by roughly 3.3 percent over the winter. However, scientists argue the findings did not achieve thresholds necessary for statistical significance, making it unclear if the results produced were by seeding clouds or attributable to chance.

Study shows cloud seeding works

However, research by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, achieved measurable results in a 3-month experiment using specialized aircraft to inject silver iodide into clouds over the Payette Basin north of Boise and measured the impact on snow using a suite of aerial and ground-based radar, snow gauges and models, the Post reported. The results showed that cloud seeding works.

Idaho and Wyoming advocates for cloud seeding

The cost annually of cloud seeding in Idaho runs roughly $2 million. The state cost-shares its cloud seeding program and estimates it will produce 1 million acre-feet of additional water each year. The state passed a bill in April to expand its cloud seeding program.

Wyoming also believes the technology can’t be ignored. The state’s cloud seeding program manager says while the efforts won’t end drought, it has shown to “slowly, incrementally” increase snowpack and every little bit helps.