Anyone familiar with Carl Barks’ classic 1953 The Master Rainmaker will remember how Donald Duck skillfully shaped clouds and sprinkled them with rain seed to provide farmers with just the right amount of rain in the right place. In 1983, Barks commented that the inspiration for his story “grew out of the news events of the period. Rainmaking by seeding clouds was getting a lot of publicity, and who could perfect the technique better than Donald Duck – and overdo it more disastrously?”
Cloud seeding was actually invented by atmospheric scientist Bernard Vonnegut, who in 1946 discovered the potential of silver iodide for the process. The first attempt at cloud seeding was in upstate New York during 1946 when a chemist caused snow to fall after he dumped six pounds of dry ice into a cloud from a plane.
Several countries have since had rainmaking programs. In the 1960s, Australian CSIRO’s activities in Tasmania increased rainfall as high as 30% in autumn in some areas. The Tasmanian experiments were so successful that the Commission has regularly undertaken seeding ever since in mountainous parts of the state.
From 1962 to 1983, Project Stormfury was an attempt by the United States military to modify hurricanes using cloud seeding. Unfortunately, results were unclear and the fear that the actions could negatively change the course of powerful hurricanes eventually stopped the project.
Very much like Donald Duck’s successful rainmaking company in Barks’ story, there are now some companies specialized in the job, like Weather Modification, Inc. in North Dakota.
China has the largest cloud seeding operation in the world. Its Weather Modification Department employs more than 32,000 people in 30 provinces working to increase the amount of rain over arid regions, including China’s capital city, Beijing, by firing silver iodide rockets into the sky where rain is desired. The department has 7,100 anti-aircraft guns, 4,991 special rocket launchers and around 30 aircraft across the country to do the job.
In light of the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics, the Beijing meteorological office’s weather modification department is now busy preparing to ensure clear skies for the games, by perfecting techniques of artificial rain and cloud dispersal.
So there you have it: cloud seeding is big business, and all these activities would make even Master Rainmaker Donald Duck jealous.