As any farmer in North Dakota can tell you, when you’re looking up to the sky and see rain clouds forming during a dry summer heat wave, it can be awfully disappointing when the storm bypasses your land. The same goes for a farmer on the other side of the world in India. When he’s looking to the sky and sees the clouds rolling in at the beginning of the monsoon season, it’s pretty disappointing when the monsoon doesn’t quite live up to expectations. In India, a “bad” monsoon season is the one that does not produce enough rainfall to ensure an adequate water supply for the entire crop growing season. Monsoons typically provide 80% of India’s rainfall. With nearly half of India’s workforce in agriculture, that’s quite a few faces looking towards the clouds in anticipation of the annual monsoon.
Strengthening Nature with Science
During years that India’s clouds are expected to disappoint, Fargo’s Weather Modification, Inc. (WMI) can step in and enhance a cloud’s ability to produce precipitation. They do this by using specially equipped aircraft to “cloud seed”. That is, dispersing silver iodide particles into the clouds. Silver iodide is used because of its similar size and shape to ice crystals. Silver Iodide also has the ability to attach and create just enough weight to cause ice crystals to fall from the clouds, melting into rain before they hit the ground.
Weather Modification started working in India in 2003 with several cloud seeding projects in the northern part of the country. For these projects, WMI supplied meteorologists, technicians, and pilots in order to support both cloud seeding and research. “There’s an atmospheric research component that goes along with cloud seeding projects,” says WMI’s Vice President of Operations Hans Ahlness, “Cloud formation can be affected by a lot of things. What kind of atmosphere is there? Is it dusty, is it polluted? What size particles are in the atmosphere? Are there mountains or plains? What will form the clouds? A lot of research goes into the project. You have to know what you’re working with.” WMI has also built custom designed, research and seeding aircraft for their customers in India. Over time, they’ve added a technology transfer component to the project – training local meteorologists, technicians, and operators in atmospheric sciences and equipment operation.
India isn’t the only country WMI exports to. WMI has just finished their second customized aircraft for a Chinese cloud seeding customer. China has a large government-run weather modification industry that includes studying the air pollution problem. WMI has also supplied parts and training in Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Saudi Arabia. WMI’s modified airplanes have found their way to Thailand, Mexico, Greece, and Argentina, as well. For any type of atmospheric research, WMI can supply the proper aircraft with instruments and a data acquisition system in order to collect, display, and archive the desired data.
A Local Solution Goes Global
Weather Modification, Inc. was started in 1961 by farmers and agricultural pilots Wilbur Brewer and Bill Fisher in Bowman, ND. They saw a need not only to make it rain, but to change the type of precipitation that fell. “The reason it took seed out there is because the southwest corner of North Dakota is a bullseye for hail damage for crops in the U.S.,” says Ahlness, “They were entrepreneurial guys. They wanted less hail, so by adding more [silver iodide] to a cloud, they could get a whole bunch of little hailstones that would melt on the way down.” If the ice crystals were allowed to enlarge within the clouds, they would naturally become too big to melt while falling, resulting in hail damaged crops.
How does one become a cloud seeding expert? For Hans Ahlness, it was growing up across from Wilbur Brewer in Bowman. As a kid, he was curious about weather and would ride his bike out to the airport in order to have a clear view of any incoming clouds. He started studying meteorology in high school and began helping Brewer with the airplanes in the shop. After completing the pilot program at UND and mechanics school at Dakota Aerotech, Ahlness started full time with Weather Modificaiton, Inc. He’s stayed with the company in increasing roles ever since, including making the move to Fargo after Patrick Sweeney bought WMI in 1993 and expanded operations globally.
For Ahlness, Brewer, and all curious and concerned faces around the world looking towards the sky, Weather Modification, Inc has provided a way to study and adapt to the atmospheric conditions above, providing solutions for those depending on the rain.
For more information about Weather Modification, Inc., please visit www.weathermodification.com.
Photo Caption: A Beechcraft B200 King Air, modified for cloud seeding and atmospheric research with instrument probes visible under the wing, cloud seeding flare racks on top of the wing just outboard of the engine and air sampling ports in place of one of the cabin windows