The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By David Grieder
Staff writer 

Fooling with Mother Nature

Funding issues a barrier for local cloud seeding efforts.


March 18, 2018

File photo

The Curry County Fair traditionally attracts rainclouds and rain in August, but the region's been short on moisture in recent months.

Dry weather conditions are not unusual this time of year in eastern New Mexico.

The region averages barely 1.5 inches of moisture in January, February and March combined.

But this year's lack of rainfall is more noticeable than usual.

Clovis has seen just a quarter-inch of rain since Jan. 1. Portales has only doubled that.

The end of 2017 was no better with the region receiving just 5 to 10 percent of normal precipitation from October through December, according to the National Weather Service.

It's times like these we start to think about ways to fool Mother Nature.

Cloud seeding is not a novel concept to eastern New Mexico, but uncertainty over funding and climactic conditions keep it from becoming a regular reality.

It has proven effective in other locations, say its advocates, but getting those silver iodide-dispersing airplanes off the ground will take some confidence and some money, both of which are as up in the air as the water vapor in the (qualifying) clouds.

"There's hardly ever a condition in New Mexico where we can't use cloud seeding," said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, who in 2013 attempted to secure $150,000 to fund a program of the kind in Roosevelt and Lea counties. His push then was in response to severe drought conditions at the time, but he said Friday that the need is still abundantly present.

Ingle mentioned a more recent attempt at state funds that failed this year on a line-item veto from Gov. Susana Martinez after passing the state's Legislature.

Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, said he believed efforts to get that funding - most recently to the tune of $185,000 - failed in past years because the governor was unconvinced of the concept really holding water, so to speak.

"I don't think she believed it was scientific and that it actually worked," Wooley said. "It's a proven fact that it works. ... They've been doing this for umpteen years. Not here, but Texas does it a lot."

Wooley said that in drought conditions, like those of the present, even a marginal volume of additional moisture extracted from a cloud can go a long way.

"If we get an extra 1 to 2 inches of rain a year, that's tremendous for this country," he said. "But it has to be a very specific cloud; it has to meet a lot of criteria."

Those criteria amount to a sort of recipe, according to the state climatologist.

"You have to have the right ingredients," Dave DuBois said Friday. "You have to have the big clouds that will initiate precipitation and you have to have the right meteorology as well, the surrounding atmosphere in terms of dew point."

DuBois said he thinks the practice is "worth looking into" for the region, but noted that results are not always guaranteed.

"It takes quite a bit of skill and time," he said. "Even though you have the right ingredients and the storm, you may not see the right products. ... I've heard of both positives and negatives in terms of cost."

Curry County Commissioner Robert Thornton recalled an effort to implement cloud seeding technology in the area in the late 1980s or early '90s yielded "no results," but said "it would be interesting to see what the technology is today."

"It was real controversial," said Rusty Rucker, who through Curry County's soil and water conservation board was part of the effort over two decades ago. "It looked reasonable to me that it should work."

He believes it's still worth an effort, especially with developments to the technology and new research to further legitimize it.

"I think it would be a shot worth taking," he said. "But you've got to have clouds first and that was a lot of our trouble - and that seems to be what we're looking at now, too."


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