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By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Weather mod battle ramps up...

Posted 7/17/18 (Tue)

For those of you who don’t live in western North Dakota, you might not know or keep close tabs on weather modification.

If you don’t know, it’s a method of dropping silver iodide pellets out of an airplane into a developing thunderstorm to either enhance rainfall or suppress hail.

Bowman County and several townships in Slope County are considered District 1, while McKenzie, Williams, Mountrail, Burke and Ward counties are considered District 2.

Those who support weather modification and those who don’t, seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum with no apparent middle ground.

Those who support it, insist it works. In fact, a meteorologist told a recent airport tour in Kenmare that weather modification has increased rainfall in the above counties in North Dakota by 10 percent.

Other supporters say it has suppressed hail by up to 40 percent.

Those who oppose it; some call it witchcraft, while others are dead set against spending any kind of public money to fund this program that will cost $197,000 just in Ward County in 2019.

In 2017, the Ward County Commission voted to suspend the program altogether, but reinstated it after public pressure. Members of that commission are also split on whether it works or not.

Weather modification has been going on in parts of North Dakota since at least 1960 and will continue at least for one more year.

Numerous other countries have embraced it including Australia where officials there would perhaps practice that “witchcraft” to stop recurring drought in Australia’s interior.

There’s published documents about the province of Alberta using weather modification for hail suppression that has changed the entire gamut of summer weather.

Several years ago the city of Calgary got hit hard with hail. It damaged and destroyed buildings and killed livestock. But since implementing weather modification, hail has been minimal in and around the Calgary area.

What’s interesting about Alberta’s weather modification is it was implemented solely to spare property from being damaged. In District 2 it’s farm crops and there’s a dual purpose in District 1; to save crops and livestock.

If you want to make a serious case in favor of weather modification, there was an intense storm June 14 that started in northeastern Montana and moved in an easterly direction.

There have been numerous reports of heavy rain and hail, but here is the clincher in this story.

As the storm skirted eastward along the Canadian border near Crosby, Noonan, Portal, Northgate and Sherwood, nearly all of the hail fell on the Canadian side of the border including the communities of Estevan and Carnduff, which both had major hail damage.

Yes, there was some hail in North Dakota, but reports suggest it was localized in and around the Northgate Dam area.

For those who oppose weather modification, the summer of 2017 presented about the best case. The weather modification planes made weekly flights yet we had the driest July since the Dust Bowl years.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? The short answer is everyone. There is only so much the human element can accomplish in nature. We can enhance rain or suppress hail with the silver iodide, but nature is going to do what it wants to do.

Regardless of what happens, debates and even arguments continue to fuel around this subject that has become rather controversial.

And almost every time there is dissent, it’s about the lack of statistics or data to prove that weather modification works.

Studies have been done, but they appear to be outdated. A sure way to settle the issue is for an independent third party, such as the University of Nebraska or UC-Davis, or some other third party outside of North Dakota, to do an in-depth study, perhaps over a period of several years, to pin down the data that is almost always asked for but never presented.

Maybe it needs to be a collaboration of academia as well as insurance companies as well as the companies that produce the silver iodide that is so important in cloud seeding.

Whatever it is, it’s apparent something needs to be done to prove or disprove that weather modification works or not.

As long as taxpayer money is going to be spent on weather modification, there’s going to be controversy. Maybe it should be funded completely by private sponsors to stop the mudslinging.