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New Mexico May Look To Cloud Seeding To Try To Improve Snowfall | Local News

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As the drought dragges on, New Mexico state officials want to remove snow from the sky using human intervention rather than relying on hope and prayer.

Colorado company will use a 75-year-old method known as cloud seeding in an area spanning the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and six other counties in an attempt to increase precipitation and increase snowpack during a winter that is expected to be drier than normal again due to an El Niño weather pattern.

Western Weather Consultants has asked the Interstate Stream Commission to set up seven machines that will release silver iodide vapor into the atmosphere during storms so that the substance can be absorbed in certain clouds, increasing the crystals of ice and producing more snow.

The company plans to perform 200 hours of cloud seeding from December 13 to February 28. It will encompass parts of Santa Fe, Taos, Rio Arriba, Mora, San Miguel and Colfax counties.

The Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District in eastern New Mexico is paying the company $ 55,000 for the work. He uses a portion of the $ 212,500 in time modification funds he received from the state Department of Agriculture.

“There’s nowhere in New Mexico that doesn’t need more water,” said Rick Ledbetter, district board treasurer.

Cloud seeding was done sporadically in New Mexico over the decades since its invention in a General Electric lab in 1946.

Although the public comment period ends Sunday, the commission will hold an 8 a.m. to noon hearing on Monday to give people another opportunity to speak out.

The proper functioning of cloud seeding remains in question. Estimates vary depending on the time of year, direction of storms, and cloud water content.

Eric Hjermstad, co-owner of Western Weather, said measuring results is an inexact science.

But data collected over the years and advancements in technology put the average increase in snowfall due to cloud seeding at 3-8% over a season, Hjermstad said.

He added that the company is using data sources such as SNOTEL, a federal sensor system that measures the depth of the snowpack, to get an idea of ​​how precipitation might have increased in areas with cloud seeding. Has been carried out.

But even these measurements are not precise in determining the impact of the activity on snowfall, he said.

“We don’t create purple snowflakes, so we can’t go up and just measure how many purple snowflakes there were in an area,” Hjermstad said.

Several years ago the Wyoming Weather Modification Project led the researchers to conclude that while they could not find a definitive answer on the effectiveness of cloud seeding, it did work under certain conditions.

Baseline experiments conducted over the past 60 years, comparing snow on a mountain where clouds were seeded to one in which no seeding occurred, have consistently shown a 3-8% increase over to seeding, said Hjermstad.

The amount of water that comes from swelling the snowpack by cloud seeding can reach thousands of acre-feet, with a cost of $ 3 to $ 7 per acre-foot.

One foot-acre is equivalent to approximately 326,000 gallons, enough to supply the average American household for a year.

“It’s a cheap way to get water that usually wouldn’t be there,” Hjermstad said.

The plan calls for strategically placing seven machines, each with a different owner, and training owners in their use, he said.

A solution of silver iodide is injected into a propane flame which vaporizes it. From there it is released into the atmosphere.

Hjermstad said he and other members of the company would follow storm reports and other data, such as planes covered in ice, to determine if conditions are suitable for seeding in a particular area. Operators are told when to start a generator, he added.

Cloud seeding has raised concerns among some environmentalists who report studies showing that silver iodide in high enough amounts can harm microorganisms, fish and other wildlife. It can also contaminate water and soil.

A Toxicological study 2016 suggested that repeated cloud seeding in an area could result in the accumulation of a sufficient amount of substance to harm the ecosystem.

But Ledbetter said he had read various studies which concluded that seasonal cloud seeding did not leave enough residue to pose environmental or health risks.

“They said there was no detectable increase,” Ledbetter said.

He added that cloud seeding had been done for many years in California with no reports of contamination or health issues, Ledbetter said. Given how environmentally conscious this state is, he said there would have been bad publicity if the cloud seeding had proven to be harmful.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers expressed interest in having this work done in northern regions, in part to improve the snowpack in ski areas that depend on tourism, he said.

The legislature then allocated money to the Agriculture Department for cloud seeding, which it was grateful for, Ledbetter said.

“We’ve been trying to get things done for the past five or six years,” Ledbetter said.


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