California revives cloud-seeding effort as El Nino disappoints

storm-clouds-over-desertHopes that El Nino will end California’s drought are withering. It appears they’re being replaced with high hopes for the science of cloud-seeding.

Southern California in particular has been suffering from a lack of precipitation and now Los Angeles County officials are reviving its cloud-seeding program for $550,000 a year. The program was abandoned in 2009 – several years after it had last been used – apparently out of fear that too much rain would destabilize hillsides charred from wildfires. It was resurrected last year after the governor’s declaration of a water emergency.

Cloud-seeding is accomplished by spraying silver iodide into a cloud, which creates ice nuclei. Water vapor is drawn to the particles and once they become heavy enough, they fall and melt into rain.

According to L.A. County’s Department of Public Works, this process produces an average of 1.5 billion additional gallons of storm water annually. To purchase the same amount of water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California would cost about $3.2 million per year.

“We’re giving Mother Nature a hand,” Kerjon Lee, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Public Works, told KTLA.

The first cloud-seeding since 2002 was carried out on March 8, and officials also took advantage of a storm in the area on March 11, seeding clouds over the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Utah-based North American Weather Consultants has been contracted by the county and there are currently 10 cloud-seeding generators located on county land from Pacoima to Duarte.

Engineers monitor what is happening via cameras mounted on the generators, but they often don’t know whether they’ll activate the program until the last minute as conditions must be just right.

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