Is Rainmaking a Myth or Reality?

Cloud Seeding Facts

Several people in the past and present have tried various methods to create rain but were it luck or a true scientific discovery?

There has been public interest in making rain, especially in the farming community where water shortages bring economic disaster. Stories of rainmaking have been met with skepticism but the U.S. Congress was interested in determining if they were true or false.

Rainmaker Brigadier General Robert Dyrenforth

In the late 19th century, the U.S. Congress hired retired Brigadier General Robert Dyrenforth to conduct experiments in Texas. He believed that rain could be created by firing cannons and launching balloons that were loaded with explosives. His methods were not able to create rain and the results were disastrous because he caused several fires. His failure at making rain gave him the nickname of “Dry-Henceforth.”

Rainmaker Charles M. Hatfield

Hatfield offered his services in the early 1900s to drought-ridden communities. He gave himself the names of “Wizard of the Weather” and the “Robin Hood of the Clouds.” Hatfield developed a secret formula, he called a “moisture accelerator” and he convinced his clients that he released this chemical from towers that he supposedly built. In turn, the chemical would create moisture in the air and build up rain clouds.

In actuality, Hatfield was an amateur meteorologist and studied the weather records to determine the best times of the year that rain would likely develop. If there was no rain in the long-term weather forecast, Hatfield would stall his customers by saying it takes a lot of time to attract rain from the atmosphere. When the weather changed and brought rain, his rainmaking was considered a success.

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Hatfield’s downfall occurred in 1916 when he offered his services to the city of San Diego, which was experiencing a severe drought. He supposedly released his moisture accelerator chemical in an undisclosed location out of the city. In January 1916, the weather changed and the city was hit with heavy rains. It was triple the average rainfall and it caused widespread flooding.

The city of San Diego blamed Hatfield for this disastrous flood and demanded that he be held liable or he wouldn’t be paid the $10,000 fee he charged. Hatfield would not accept responsibility for this incident and didn’t get paid. This incident tarnished his reputation and he went out of business.

Rainmaking in the Mid-Twentieth Century

The interest in making rain continued, especially in the U.S. were drought conditions in the Great Plains caused the Black Sunday Dust Storm on April 14, 1935. Scientists theorized that rain could be made if an airplane flew over cumulus clouds and sprayed powdered dry ice or carbon dioxide or silver iodide. They also performed tests by having rockets release chemicals in the clouds.

This method, known as cloud seeding, was based on the principle that these substances would attract the moisture within the clouds and form droplets. In turn, they would fall in the form of rain as they got heavy.

Rainmaking in Modern Times

As technology gets more sophisticated, so do the attempts to make rain. The latest trials have involved lasers, whereby the beam of light extracts water from the air. In turn, the water forms droplets around the nuclei of the laser.

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Another test is making rain through ionization. This is achieved by building a network of towers, which charge the air with electricity. The ionized air is used to seed the clouds.

Have people been able to successfully make rain?

Not according to Don Lipman of the Washington Post. “With the exception of certain localized types of weather modification, such as hail suppression, rainmaking (or rain prevention), it seems, still has a long way to go before becoming a reliable, controllable, and scientifically sound large-scale weather changer.”

Sources:

  • Can People Really Make Rain? Big Site of Amazing Facts.
  • Lipman, Don. The Rainmakers: Did they make it rain? Can they? Washington Post. Capital Weather Gang. July 8, 2010.
  • Dickinson, Boonsri. How to create rain clouds with lasers. Smartplanet.com. May 5, 2010.
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