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Initial results from new cloud-seeding method produce more rain, researchers say

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Dan Martin, USDA ARS
ARS research engineer Dr. Dan Martin tests new cloud seeding technology over Texas.

The federal Agricultural Research Service has a new cloud-seeding technology using electrically charged water particles.

Cloud seeding typically involves releasing a salty powder into clouds from a plane, in hopes that moisture will condense on the particles and fall as rain.

A new technique releases a charged mist that ultimately does the same — but, apparently, a little better.

Typical cloud seeding results in 5-15% more precipitation when applied to a cloud.

Dan Martin, a research engineer with the Agricultural Research Service, recently patented the new technology using electrified water.

"The conventional technology yields about a 10 to 15% increase over the untreated clouds. And with our technique, it was yielding 25 to 30% increase in precipitable water," Martin said.

Researchers say the 25% to 30% increase in moisture being reported with the new technique is not conclusive, given the initial test was done on only 13 clouds.

Andrew Detwiler is the president of the Weather Modification Association and a former South Dakota Mines professor.

"It's pretty experimental right now. They're just collecting data," Detwiler said.

Meanwhile, traditional cloud-seeding continues at various sites around the country. That includes Bowman, North Dakota, near the border with South Dakota where drought had ranchers thinning herds in 2021.

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Weather Modification Association Project Locations Map

Darren Langerud is the director of North Dakota’s Atmospheric Resource Division. He said cloud seeding helps extract a little more water from clouds.

Langerud says North Dakota has been using cloud seeding technology for about 70 years. He says the state's salt-seeded clouds average about 5-10% more precipitation, and the benefit-to-cost ratio is favorable.

"So, for every dollar put in the program, there are $36 in benefits that are coming back," Langerud said. “Cloud seeding should be viewed as a long-term water management tool, not as a short-term fix."

11 states are studying seeding clouds. South Dakota does not have a program.

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.