Rain Makers: Sorcerer’s Apprentices?

To be coarse is to be not very competent for the task at hand. Unlike the Peter principle, where one is in search of the highest competency possible for the task at hand, after which, incompetency sets in. The lack of competency does not preclude luck! A good dose of luck set in when 4 housewives in Riverton, Wyoming decided to enter the Fourth of July parade with a float adorned with a rainmaking contraption of their own design. Weather 21:8 (1966). The contraption was meant to be comical from the get-go. Fumes and smoke rose from the contraption and three stories high. Were the women coarse or not so coarse? That is the question.

As luck would have it, on the Fourth of July, clouds appeared, and that night a half inch of rain fell. The clouds persisted for nine days with occasional showers. 14 inches of hail added to the fun. Snow was also recorded in the region.

So was it luck or not?

Weather modification was a serious business in the 1960s. Joanne Simpson, a colleague of mine at Virginia, had a contract to test the veracity of weather modification technologies. Her answer was a possible 10% augmentation of rainfall. What was needed to reap this 10% is the right kind of cloud, next you need a nucleation substance (silver iodide or urea would do the trick). It is one thing to seed the cloud, it is another thing to get the rain that falls over your target location. The lawyers next enter the stage with claims like “You stole my water." Or "Your flood ruined my crops." As such, there is not so much of a weather modification industry hawking their contraptions for rainmaking.

The story ends with too much precipitation and angry farmers pleading for a shelving of the rainmaking equipment or perhaps stow it away for drought that will happen.


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