Cloud Seeding: How Does Artificial Rain Work?

Severe floods have struck the United Arab Emirates, causing the largest rainfall in over 75 years. Al Ain received a record-breaking 254mm of rain, surpassing the annual average. Highways were turned into rivers, and homes and businesses were damaged. Flights at busy airports were also disrupted.

Some people have raised concerns that cloud seeding, a process of enhancing rainfall by releasing chemicals or salt particles into the air, may have contributed to the extreme weather. Similar concerns were also raised during heavy rains in California. However, experts and officials deny these claims. While climate scientists predict more extreme weather, the role of cloud seeding is debatable.

The flood has claimed the lives of twenty people, and the recovery process is ongoing.


What Is Cloud Seeding?


Cloud seeding is a method used to try to make clouds produce more rain or snow than they naturally would. Clouds don’t just start making droplets on their own; they need tiny particles to stick to, like how water condenses on a cold glass. These tiny particles are called condensation nuclei. Cloud seeding involves adding more of these particles to the air by flying planes through clouds and injecting them with substances like silver iodide.

Once enough droplets form in a cloud, they become heavy and fall to the ground as rain or snow. Normally, natural particles like dust and dirt help clouds form droplets, but cloud seeding aims to enhance this process.

In recent years, the UAE has used cloud seeding to tackle water shortages. However, it’s essential to note that cloud seeding is not a magic solution for extreme weather events like floods. While some people mistakenly attributed recent heavy rainfall solely to cloud seeding, experts emphasise that its impact is likely minor compared to other factors like climate change.

Cloud seeding is typically used to enhance rainfall in regions experiencing water scarcity or facing drought conditions. Additionally, it can be used to reduce the effects of severe weather events such as hailstorms or fog, especially in aviation and agriculture.


Who In The World Makes Rain?


Cloud seeding dates back to 1946 when American scientist Vincent J. Schaefer conducted the first experiments. Since then, seeding has been done using various methods like aircraft, rockets, cannons, and ground generators. While several substances have been tested, solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) and silver iodide have proven to be the most effective.

Cloud seeding is a technique actively used by almost 150 countries, including the United States and China. China is the largest user of this technique, investing over £65 million annually, while the US spends more than £10 million every year, and this amount continues to increase. Other countries like Australia, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates are also seed clouds.

There are international restrictions on military applications of cloud seeding, and the regulation of this technique remains primarily at a local level.


What Are The Benefits And Challenges Of Cloud Seeding?


The benefits of cloud seeding include:
Water Scarcity Relief:
Cloud seeding can increase rainfall in areas facing droughts, helping curb water scarcity.

Crop Protection:
The process can prevent crop damage caused by low rainfall, averting potential famines.

Aviation Safety:
Cloud seeding can suppress fog and hail, enhancing airport safety.

Tourism Boost:
Improved weather in dry regions may attract tourists and boost local economies.

However, the endeavour of cloud seeding is not without challenge:
Chemical Risks:
The long-term effects of chemicals like silver iodide used in cloud seeding are uncertain.

Costly Process:
The use of aircraft or rockets for chemical dispersal makes cloud seeding expensive.

Flood Risk:
Cloud seeding may inadvertently lead to flooding in some areas.

Contribution To Global Warming:
The use of CO2 (dry ice) in cloud seeding may exacerbate climate change.

Altered Weather Patterns:
Cloud seeding can disrupt rain in neighbouring areas, impacting ecosystems and marine life.

Effectiveness Doubts:
Questions remain about whether cloud seeding actually causes rain or merely coincides with natural rainfall.



How Does Cloud Seeding Impact The Environment?


Cloud seeding, whilst offering potential benefits in rainfall augmentation, also raises environmental concerns. Changing rainfall patterns can harm ecosystems and biodiversity, and affect areas that were supposed to receive normal rainfall. Additionally, the introduction of seeding agents may disrupt the natural hydrological cycle, affecting soil moisture levels, groundwater recharge, and river flows.

One major worry is the potential environmental impact of silver iodide. Experts fear silver toxicity could harm aquatic life and soil health if cloud seeding becomes widespread. Thus, responsible use and thorough evaluation of environmental impacts are crucial.

Cloud seeding shows promise in addressing droughts and aiding firefighting efforts, however, concerns remain regarding its unintended consequences. Potential issues include flooding, soil erosion, and air pollution from chemicals such as silver iodide. Moreover, mishandling of seeding chemicals can pose risks of environmental contamination and health problems.

Although there have been some encouraging results and studies on cloud seeding, it is important to conduct further research to better understand its long-term effects on climate and to explore safer options for reducing environmental risks. It is also essential to follow strict protocols for chemical handling to minimise any potential harm to the environment and human health.


Cloud Seeding Startups


The debate on cloud seeding is a heated one. However, it’s important to note that companies take necessary measures after conducting research to ensure that their product meets industry requirements. Startups are coming up with innovative ways to address water scarcity and combat drought effects. These startups aim to benefit the ecosystem by implementing environmentally safe approaches.


Western Weather Group



Western Weather Group, founded in 2005 by Don Schukraft, delivers meteorological products and services to enable informed decisions regarding weather impacts on operations. Specialising in weather information services, the company offers industrial-grade meteorological instrumentation, including system design, sales, installation, calibration, and data management.

Western Weather Group conducts cloud seeding projects to enhance snowfall and water supply, and provide custom weather forecasting. Based in Chico, California, Western Weather Group is distinguished by its quality, value, responsiveness, and expertise.


Startup Renaissance


Startup Renaissance, a Mexican company founded by Alejandro J. Trueba, offers Rainfall Stimulation technology to combat drought effects. Its environmentally safe approach aims to extinguish forest fires, fill dams for human consumption, stimulate agricultural irrigation, and minimise hail damage.

Utilising its RAINMATE® compound, the company conducts cloud seeding projects, demonstrating success in regions like Baja California. Startup Renaissance’s solutions aim to address Mexico’s pressing water scarcity issues.


Ice Crystal Engineering LLC


Ice Crystal Engineering LLC, based in Kindred, ND, USA, is a manufacturer of pyrotechnic cloud seeding flares. With over 60 years of industry experience, its flares are tested at institutions like Colorado State University and the National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

ISO 9001:2015 certified, ICE ensures strict adherence to global manufacturing standards. The company’s flares are used in weather modification projects across 24 countries, known for its reliability and safe ignition. ICE offers custom-designed flares to suit various atmospheric conditions, making the company a trusted choice for weather modification professionals worldwide.