“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t be? It is the same the angels breathe.” ~ Mark Twain, “Roughing It”
With great expectation, hope and a prayer (in times of drought, all help is needed), we eagerly await the first good measurable rain of the season. If our wonderful and much loved local newspaper, the Crescenta Valley Weekly, arrives protected in plastic or, even better, a little damp it will be cause for celebration. A few drops over two inches is our rain season’s total. As summer draws nearer, there is concern amongst the science world and the general population over water shortages.
Last weekend’s trip up the coast to visit family took us past Lake Cachuma and through the Santa Ynez Valley. Being quite familiar with the natural landscape of this route, I was shocked by the drastic change. The lake’s shoreline has receded and its capacity is at 30% of normal. Typically, during the winter and spring months the surrounding hillsides are grass-covered and dotted by herds of very “happy California cows.” Now they are dry and brown with a scant number of sad cows. One glance at this scene and any doubt of the drought and its impact would be erased. We need rain … and a lot! With these thoughts, the practice of cloud seeding came to mind.
Cloud seeding in California first began as an experimental practice during the 1940s. Eventually the practice became a yearly occurrence for hydroelectric agencies (SCE being one of them) and water agencies. Presently there are approximately 12 cloud seeding projects in the state, including the San Gabriel River one. Waiting for the right weather conditions, including temperature, wind direction and cloud type, is necessary. When achieved, the “key ingredients” – seeds of silver iodine and sometimes dry ice – are dropped by planes or released from ground-based chimneys into a waiting cloud system. Water vapor in the clouds condenses and forms ice crystals which attach to these “seeds.” The end result is hopefully more rain and snowfall. This spells w-a-t-e-r and e-l-e-c-t-r-i-c-i-t-y.
California Dept. of Water Resources estimates 400,000 acres of water runoff is produced from California’s cloud seeding projects. One acre-foot supplies a typical household for a year.
According to Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at the Reno, Nev. based Desert Research Institute, “The message is starting to sink in; this (cloud seeding) is a cost effective tool.” And he added, “The technology is better; we understand how to do cloud seeding better. It’s definitely taken more seriously.”
Environmental concerns have mostly been alleviated. Silver iodine is a compound and inert, compared to elemental silver that is toxic. So giving the clouds “a little extra help” is considered safe by a majority of researchers and scientists.
I just finished a phone conversation with meteorologist Stuart Seto of the NWS in Oxnard. He responded to my inquiries of cloud seeding and the current storm system.
“It is done by private agencies, so I really don’t know,” is all he could offer. But most importantly he told me La Crescenta and surrounding foothills can expect up to six inches of rain over the next few days.
With the Doppler on and rain gauge in place, I eagerly await. Oh, I almost forgot my umbrella!
Sue Kilpatrick is a Crescenta Valley resident and Official Skywarn Spotter for the National Weather Service.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.