Meteorologist breaks down cloud seeding misconceptions: 'You can't create a storm'

Leticia Juarez Image
Thursday, February 22, 2024
Meteorologist breaks down misconceptions about cloud seeding
Back-to-back atmospheric rivers have filled reservoirs and caused flooding. Some are questioning whether the rain was caused by cloud seeding.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- With two recent back-to-back atmospheric rivers slamming Southern California this month, the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority has been in a holding pattern with its cloud seeding pilot project.

In fact, the water organization has had to suspend its operations since Feb 1.

"We're very interested in the safety of cloud seeding... from a flooding point-of-view so we have a suspension criteria in place. So there are certain storms that are so large we would not cloud seed so we don't want to contribute to any flooding," said Jeff Mosher, General Manager with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.

Mosher spoke to Eyewitness News in January about safety regulations in place for the then 2-month-old project.

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, or SAWPA, is made up of five water districts in the Inland Empire and Orange County that are jointly involved in the project. The four-year pilot program launched this past November to explore ways to combat drought with cloud seeding, which involves using existing storm clouds to increase rain output.

But it has its limits.

"You're not creating a storm, that's one of the myths. You can't create a storm," said meteorologist Alex Tardy with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in San Diego.

The NOAA monitors clouding seeding projects across the United States.

The four-year pilot program launched in November with an aim to increase precipitation by 5% to 15%.

What is cloud seeding?

Tardy says cloud seeding works when water is already present in the air, but it needs a particle for the water to latch on to and form a droplet heavy enough to fall to the surface.

Those particles can be anything from dust to pollution, or in the case of cloud seeding: silver iodide. The chemical compound used in flares to harpoon storm clouds has generated controversy.

"Our air is full of air pollution and different types of chemicals. Full of it," said Tardy. "I don't know of silver iodide being any more particularly dangerous than anything that is naturally or unnaturally in the atmosphere."

A 2016 study found the amounts of silver iodide used outside a laboratory setting too low to induce a toxicological effect. Several other studies dating back to the 1970s stated similar findings.

Does cloud seeding cause more flooding?

There are still many questions surrounding the practice of cloud seeding and its potential effects. Is it responsible for atmospheric rivers? Is silver iodide a danger to the environment or our health? The science and experts says the answer is no.

The real question is - does it work?

"In my opinion, it is going to be very difficult to show the effectiveness of cloud seeding because we commonly see different rainfall and snowfall totals within two miles of each other," said Tardy.

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority cloud seeding pilot project is attempting to show a 5-15% increase in precipitation. That is, if it gets a chance to.

Here's a more in-depth look at cloud seeding.