Weather Center

How Texas’ Cloud Seeding Program Helps Farmers

By Peter Simek 2.25.19

Texas’ mercurial weather is hard enough to predict; but with a land mass larger than every Western European country, the state also faces hugely disparate climates. Some parts are dry as a bone, and that can make it tough on farmers and ranchers, who rely on water for their livelihood.

That’s why, in 1971, the Colorado River Municipal Water District (CRMWD) introduced a novel way to modify the weather and tackle the problem of unpredictable rainfall: cloud seeding.

How Can We Control the Weather?

Gathering together a team of meteorological experts and specially equipped aircraft, the CRMWD designed a program that could enhance the rain-generating power of clouds in order to produce more rainfall.

The program was a success, and today, the CRMWD operates a cloud-seeding program based in Big Spring that covers approximately 2.6 million acres of West Texas between Lubbock and Midland, generating increased rainfall that fills the J.B. Thomas and E.V. Spence reservoirs on the Colorado River.

What Is Cloud Seeding?

Once the subject of conspiracy theories and sci-fi thrillers, cloud seeding is a scientific process by which special compounds are added to clouds in order to facilitate the production of rain.

Weather modification programs target billowy cumulus clouds that form in Texas skies from the evaporation off lakes and streams and of moisture in the air. These big clouds are not dense enough to produce rainfall; that’s where cloud seeding comes in.

Compounds like silver iodide, which have a crystalline structure similar to naturally occurring ice crystals, are released from planes from above or below the cloud base. Updrafts of warm air draw the compounds into the cloud, where they bind with tiny ice droplets, creating a chain reaction that transforms the microscopic droplets into raindrops. The heavier raindrops then fall out of the cloud and to the ground.

Does It Work?

Since 1971, there has been a lot of study and research into the efficacy of cloud seeding throughout the world. Experience has shown that cloud seeding does offer a strategy to improve the frequency and quantity of rain, which helps increase freshwater supplies in dry areas.

The process works best during non-drought periods when there are already clouds that could potentially produce rain. The process doesn’t create rain but offers a little nudge to help clouds return more of their moisture to the earth.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation issues permits to organizations, individuals, and governmental bodies interested in setting up their own cloud-seeding program. Today, cloud-seeding projects operate throughout West and South Texas and have increased the availability of water in dry parts of the state.

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