Science should dictate future of weather modification programs

There are two diametrically opposed positions on weather modification efforts in our region and North Dakota in general.

One position is that manipulating weather, such as affecting rainfall and mitigating for hail damage, is a slightly ambiguous concept with results that can’t be contained or necessarily predicted.

The other position is that studies reveal a positive impact from weather modification, particularly for the agriculture sector.

The latter was supported at an Elmer Jesme Conference of Counties meeting in Minot Monday. Director of the state Atmospheric Resource Board Darin Langerud told officials that studies within and outside of North Dakota find a 5% to 10% rainfall increase from weather modification. Furthermore, Langerud reported that a study on the economics of cloud seeding found 5% precipitation enhancement provides an extra $21.12 million in crop benefits, or just over $9 per planted acre. At 10% increased rainfall, benefits are estimated at nearly $42 million, or about $18 per planted acre. Other cited studies also supported the position that there are benefits to cloud-seeding that go beyond just precipitation, such as a reduction in losses as a result of hail.

Langerud is correct in that science should be the major consideration in continuing weather modification programs.

That said, there should be a preponderance of affirmative data to continue moving ahead with such efforts. It is hardly uncommon for different studies to result in different conclusions and decision makers should consider all available evidence and commentary. Armed with the most possible information, civic leaders would be best prepared to reach a logical position on the subject.

Weather modification is an issue in Ward County, where the commission has trimmed its spending this year and has expressed concern about oversight. With the program authority expiring next year, the commission is considering a public vote on its future. Voters would be best served by public meetings at which as much information as possible is presented.

While opinions are varied, it should be informed decisions that determine the future of weather modification.