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Cloud seeding project meant to increase rain

An over 50-year project which "seeds" clouds with silver iodide and is said to enhance rainfall and decrease hail during the summer months will continue this summer, a state official said.

The project is slated to take place locally in Slope and Bowman counties.

Cloud seeding involves the use of planes with specialized equipment which release silver iodide into and near clouds, which form ice crystals and eventually grow and produce rainfall as they fall out of the cloud and melt later on, said Darin Langerud, director of the Atmospheric Resource Division, part of the North Dakota State Water Commission.

"Cloud seeding in North Dakota originated in North Dakota in Bowman County in 1951," Langerud said. "It's been ongoing in some manner and form since that time in the state."

Two types of aircraft seeding occur. One type involves airplanes flying below the base of the cloud and releasing a seeding agent in the updraft where the cloud is drawing in warm moist air from near the surface, the other flies on the side of the clouds and deposits the material into them, he added.

"We're working on thunderstorm clouds primarily," Langerud said.

Seeding effects can range from almost immediate to up to 30 minutes depending on the seeding delivery method, according to NDSWC information.

The silver iodide is environmentally safe, which has been documented in several studies around the world, Langerud said.

The project, which would run from June until August, utilizes two planes which are stationed at the Bowman airport. Six more are at the other locations in the project, which include McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward and Williams counties. In total, the eight planes average about 650-700 flight hours per summer.

Dean Pearson, Bowman County emergency manager, said he knows there are some people who don't believe the process works, but said he believes it does.

"If you take a look at the records that have been kept here over the past years in comparison with years before it was in place, there's definitely a noticeable difference in the amount of hail losses reported, especially through hail insurance companies," Pearson said. "It doesn't stop all of the hail, but it definitely helps with a lot of the storms that could be producing hail here."

The budgeted cost for this summer's project in Bowman and Slope counties is about $184,000. Counties pay about half of that cost and the other half comes from a state cost-share fund.

The project is working, Langerud said.

"There have been several evaluations of the program over the years," he said. "The most recent one on hail suppression shows about a 45 percent reduction in crop hail damage in a seeded area rather than an upwind, non-seeded area.

About 10 states in the western U.S. utilize a cloud seeding program, Langerud said, with programs similar to the North Dakota program in Kansas and Texas. Some states use seeding to increase snowfall, he said.

While the project has been ongoing in some counties for a number of years, other counties may participate in the program if they wish, he added.

Amidon-area farmer Cary Hande said he believes the program helps with rainfall.

"I think it helps with hail, too. I'm kind of a believer in it," Hande said.

Anyone who believes they may be harmed by the activities of the project is asked to write Langerud at North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board, 900 E. Boulevard Ave., Dept. 770, Bismarck, ND 58505-0850.

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