Cloud-seeding season sees average year after busy start

Minot Daily News – by Jill Schramm

The regional cloud-seeding project saw a busy June, although it had an overall average season and came in under budget, according to information provided the Ward County Commission Tuesday.

Darin Langerud, director of the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project, told commissioners the program flew just over 444 hours in District 2, which is similar to the 10-year average for flight hours during the June through August season. 

District 2 includes Burke, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward and Williams counties. Burke County voters elected 469-473 not to continue participating now that it has completed a four-year trial. Mountrail County in June renewed its weather modification authority for another five years. Ward County’s weather modification authority comes up for renewal in 2020.

Other data supplied by Langerud showed flight operations occurred on 37 of the 92 days this summer. In District 2 and the two counties of District 1 in southwestern North Dakota, 300 of the 544 hours flown occurred in June.

District 2 came in $56,472 under its 811,221 budget in large part because of savings related to flight hours and lower than anticipated cost of chemicals and supplies. Aircraft and radar maintenance also were down.

Funding for cloud seeding comes two-thirds from participating counties and one-third from the state. Internships also are fully state funded. The project provided 12 internships for pilots and in meteorology this year.

Among investigative work occurring is research to determine hail fall and size in seeded versus unseeded areas, Langerud said.

A study at North Dakota State University is examining the economic effects of the seeding project. Langerud said this study is updated every 10 years and was last completed in 2009.

A graduate student at the University of North Dakota is reviewing rainfall data from the more than 500 weather observers in the state to assess rainfall in areas upwind and downwind from seeded areas as well as in the seeded areas. This information will complement a 2005 study, which analyzed 27 years of data to find an increase in rainfall downwind from seeding.

Commissioner John Pietsch also asked about the effect on rainfall as a storm moves away from a seeded area after extra moisture is extracted from clouds. Langerud responded research shows rainfall is not lessened but can be enhanced.

Only 15 to 20 percent of water condensed as clouds in a thunderstorm will fall as precipitation, he explained. Increasing the precipitation by 10 percent through seeding takes only an additional 1 to 1.5 percent of the water. He added a thunderstorm constantly ingests additional moisture from near the surface of the earth.

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