Weather Modification: Fiction to Reality


In many fiction creations, writers introduce characters that can control the weather. Frozen’s Elsa could create an ever-lasting winter, while X-Men’s Storm, for instance, used her control of the atmosphere to create tornadoes, blizzards, lightning and other phenomena.

Sidney Sheldon’s “Are you afraid of the dark”, even though not particularly a scientific read, reveals a dangerous, not-so-fictitious concept. The plot revolves around a think tank funding the idea of a machine that controls weather. While the novel displays a dark plot of “Prima” (a secret organization) misusing this technology to threaten the government of developing countries by creating “natural disasters”, let’s understand how realistic is this technology today.

The idea was explored by Wilhelm Reich in 1950 through his cloudbuster experiment where he manipulated Orgone Energy, a cosmic life force which also happened to hold clouds together. It was aimed to end the drought in Maine, and possibly coincidently, did end up doing so. This peculiar event did cause an uproar and thereon scientists started their research on “cloud seeding”. Cloud seeding is a weather modification type that intends to alter the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud.

More than 50 countries presently have weather modification programs. Each country has a different aim for carrying out this program. India’s focus remains to enable rainfall in drought conditions to uplift its agricultural economy. Russia spent millions of dollars to prevent rain on their national holiday.  China made headlines when authorities said they had cleared the skies by shooting salt-filled bullets into clouds ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Currently China has launched 16 artificial rain enhancement rockets from Beijing in response to a local drought. Well-equipped aircraft and ground-based advanced Doppler and polarized radars have been rapidly applied in cloud-seeding operations. Their plans are to control weather in areas larger than the size of India by 2025. They aim to use this technology for hail suppression, disaster relief, agricultural production, emergency responses to forest and grassland fires, and dealing with unusually high temperatures or droughts.

However, with climate change already becoming such an alarming issue, is messing with the weather a valid solution? There has been healthy skepticism challenging whether cloud seeding and other techniques are useful. Since weather systems are complex and impossible to duplicate, the question we need to think of is: do we need this technology now? Moreover, does Sheldon’s plot have the ability to turn into reality?

Reference (Mar-21-E1)

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