Should Companies or Governments Try to Control the Weather

In 1945, Vincent Schaefer (1891-1993) of General Electric Laboratories in Schenectady, New York, accidentally dropped tiny particles of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) into a deep-freeze. Little snowflakes formed around the dry ice. Intrigued, Schaefer and his boss, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Irving Langmuir (1881-1957), decided to test their method on clouds in a nearby mountain area. Flying in a small plane, they dropped tiny particles of dry ice into the clouds.This technique, called cloud seeding, successfully produced precipitation. Langmuir soon secured government funding for additional trials to show that seeding clouds with either dry ice or silver iodide could make rain.

By the early 1950s, private consulting firms were offering to produce rain for farmers and hydroelectric (hye-droh-ih-LEK-trik) companies for a fee. The federal government, concerned about unregulated rainmaking, formed an advisory committee to investigate whether these techniques really produced "weather on demand." As a result of the committee's recommendations, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a five-year, $5 million research project on weather control starting in the late 1950s. By the 1960s, there were many more private weather control firms, and the government was spending millions of dollars every year on additional research. The military tried to use weather as a weapon in the Vietnam War (1964-1975) by producing rain over trails used by the North Vietnamese, despite protests from meteorologists and other scientists.

Although the peak years of government spending on weather control research ended in the 1980s, weather consulting companies continue to sell rainmaking services in parched Western states.The U.S. government still sponsors weather control research, but on a more limited basis than in the past.

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