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Weather modification team on alert

There isn't a day that goes by that Savo Todorovic and Glenn Dodd aren't ready to hop in their airplane, taxi down the runway and chase after a storm.

7/19/16 (Tue)

Weather mod guys . . . From left; the weather modification team of Savo Todorovic and Glenn Dodd, along with Kenmare Airport Manager Hank Bodmer, stand beside the Piper Seneca II the team flies during weather events. Bodmer serves on the county weather modification board and is the current state chairman. 

By Marvin Baker

There isn’t a day that goes by that Savo Todorovic and Glenn Dodd aren’t ready to hop in their airplane, taxi down the runway and chase after a storm.

Todorovic and Dodd are the weather modification team based in Kenmare this summer. Todorovic is the team captain and Dodd is an intern from UND.

These two young men say they love their jobs and seem to thrive on inclement weather. After all, that is their job, getting after a storm to make sure hail doesn’t devastate crops.

As an example, on July 3 there was an isolated but intense storm forming near Tolley. The team was given clearance by Stanley radar to check out the storm and three minutes after they went airborne, according to Todorovic, they spotted a funnel cloud.

By the time they landed back at the Kenmare airport, they had spotted two funnel clouds, both of which touched down, and they had filmed one of them.

That’s just part of their job, however, Todorovic said he isn’t going to fly in to get a closer look if he isn’t sure about getting the plane back out of the storm.

“Safety is obviously paramount here,” Todorovic said. “You always stay where you can see the horizon.”

Kenmare airport manager Hank Bodmer, who serves on the Ward County weather modification board and is state weather modification chairman, said if a funnel cloud is spotted, the pilot is trained to pull away, or if flash flooding is happening, the plane is grounded for at least 30 minutes.

While the team is standing by in Kenmare, meteorologists are scanning the radar watching for potentially damaging storms. When they see something, Todorovic gets the word and their Piper Seneca II is launched.

“The whole thing is hail suppression and rain enhancement,” Todorovic said.

According to Bodmer, the way it works is there’s a dispatcher at the radar station in Stanley who gives the word for the team to launch in northwestern North Dakota known as District 2. District 1 is located in Bowman where two aircraft are staged.

District 2 encompasses Ward, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties.

When the team flies into a storm, they get under a cloud, pull power back and release chemicals that feed into the storm.

“Five-hundred to 800 feet is ideal, otherwise the storm will suck you in or the storm will blow the chemicals through the updraft,” Bodmer said. “They’re using a silver iodide powder that burns with acetone to vaporize everything. With silver iodide, we’re basically trying to rob this thing of moisture.”

According to Bodmer, stopping the hail is the bigger priority of this entire mission. Making it rain is a residual effect. When the team prevents hail from forming, the precipitation will still fall, but as larger raindrops rather than hail.

“When you’re trying to sell something like this, it’s hard to prove,” Bodmer said. “I always say hail suppression and we know from studying insurance reports that there’s a 40 percent loss of hail because of weather modification.”

According to Dodd, much like carbon dioxide dry ice, the silver iodide freezes everything in the feeder clouds stopping the moisture before it turns to hail.

Each wing of the aircraft carries 7 gallons of silver iodide. Several flares are also attached to the wings in case an additional boost is needed, according to Todorovic.

Dodd says he and Todorovic chase two or three storms per week on average and Todorovic says they are on call all the time. Each flight is generally about three hours, but can be longer or shorter depending on severity.

One person flies the plane and one records data on an iPad that is used to transmit the data, sometimes from the airport that now has wi fi.

“They can transfer information back to Bismarck,” Bodmer, who first got involved with weather modification in the early 1990s said. “That’s something that has certainly changed in this business.”

“At three hours we tell them (dispatch) we have to make a decision and it depends on where we are,” Todorovic said. “This thing can burn 20 gallons an hour and at $5 a gallon, that’s not cheap.”

Dodd added that sometimes a storm might look good for them to pursue on radar, they’ll fly out on a reconnaissance, find nothing and return. He said a recent flight like that lasted less than one half hour.

There are three threats to pay attention to, according to Todorovic; No. 1) no significant weather, No. 2) 100 percent hail threat, No. 3) rain or thunderstorm threat.

“If we’re on standby, we can’t leave here,” Todorovic said. “We’re almost always on standby. Everyone always works together on this.”

That means he and Dodd are on non-standby, standby, alert or launch status.

They both live in Kenmare for the summer, starting here June 1, with the target end date of Aug. 31. They get a weather briefing every day at noon and are in constant communications with radar and the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

A contractor in Fargo owns the aircraft and the pilot in command is hired by WMI. Interns are hired locally.

Dodd, a native of Minneapolis and flight instructor, is currently working on his master’s degree at UND.

Todorovic is a Bosnian Serb who has been in the United States since he was 8 years old. He has bounced around from the Indiana University to a job at Boeing, he said he saw the job advertised and believes it’s perfect for him. He intends to seed clouds in Idaho and California this winter.

“This is my first time in a town this small,” Todorovic said. “Kenmare is so friendly. People know each other.” Dodd called Kenmare “a nice, little, self contained town.”

Todorovic reiterates safety while flying missions.

“We don’t want pilots to look at us and say ‘we can do this,’” he said. “We’re trained for this. We always have a horizon.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!