Hydrometeorology and Water Resources
> Wyoming Weather Modification Pilot Project

Project Location

PROJECT TARGET AREAS
Two target areas: The Sierra-Madre/Medicine Bow ranges and the Wind River Range enlarge>

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Wyoming need to perform cloud seeding?

> To increase snowfall in mountainous areas and increase runoff for hydroelectricity and water supplies for lower, semi-arid elevations.

Cloud seeding (weather modification) technology has developed to the point where it can be an effective and economic tool for water managers. Cloud seeding technology will be used and evaluated in the proposed pilot projects as a long-term water management tool rather than as a tool to mitigate the effects of drought conditions. Cloud seeding is most effective under normal or near-normal weather conditions. However, the benefits during dry years cannot be ignored.

Winter cloud seeding to increase snowfall in mountainous areas is designed primarily to increase runoff for hydroelectricity and water supplies for lower, semi-arid elevations. Increases due to cloud seeding can improve soil moisture, stream flows, and reservoir levels. These effects may reduce the need for groundwater mining and improve water supplies for municipalities, industry, and irrigation. Irrigated crops can be successfully cultivated without mining (pumping) as much groundwater, dry-land farming can be more successful, and increased water supplies within reservoirs will mean that more water is available for hydropower generation, irrigation, and municipal and industrial use. Recreational boating and fishing opportunities may also be enhanced. Increased stream and river flows may aid recovery of special status species and may improve overall water quality in some locations by diluting previously turbid waters.

Present technologies to increase precipitation through cloud seeding can supply additional water, but only when clouds amenable to seeding are naturally present. Cloud seeding works best in normal or near-normal weather conditions. In drought situations, few clouds suitable for cloud seeding operations develop, and the opportunity to increase precipitation in a meaningful way will be very limited. In seasons with precipitation well above normal, seeding operations cease because when plentiful water supplies exist, seeding is not needed or desired.

The Sierra Madre/Medicine Bow Mountains and the Wind River Range receive 25 to 60 inches of precipitation annually. Data on storm frequencies suggest that seeding opportunities could occur on at least 60 to 80 days during the winter months. About 40 to 70 percent of annual precipitation in these mountain ranges falls in the winter, mostly in the form of snow, with totals of more than 250 inches of snow during the winter months. This pattern is especially evident in the Wind River Range, where 60 to 70 percent of the annual precipitation on the highest peaks falls from October through March. The Wind River Range also contains 63 glaciers covering 17 square miles, an area larger than that covered by all other glaciers in the American Rockies. Snowpack augmentation may not only increase streamflow in the Wind River range but may also help protect these glaciers from further recession.

Under a moderate growth scenario, future water demands in the Green River Basin show an estimated increase in surface water use from 73 percent to 82 percent of the allocation given in the Colorado Compact. In the Wind River/Bighorn Basin, projected needs would increase to an estimated 88 percent of the available flow under moderate population growth. All of the water in the Platte River Basin is presently allocated. A long-term strategy of snowpack augmentation would help with storage and future use needs in these basins.

A minimal (10 percent) increase in precipitation (snowpack) resulting from the proposed pilot projects would yield 130,000 to 260,000 acre-feet of water in additional runoff each spring using conservative estimates. Cost per acre-foot for this increase is estimated to be $6.50 to $13.00. Considering the limited scope of the pilot program due to the necessity of focusing on evaluation target areas, it is expected the cost per acre-foot per year will be closer to $13.00. Nevertheless this value, in comparison with the costs of other water development projects undertaken by the WWDC, is very favorable. For example, the new High Savery Dam has a cost of $158.93 per acre-foot per year.

The value of this additional water is conservatively estimated to be about $2.4 million to $4.9 million per year. This value does not include benefits realized through increased hydroelectric power generation, improved recreation and fisheries, increased tourism, slowed melting of glaciers, improved water quality and favorable flows for threatened or endangered species, or meeting downstream water requirements in the North Platte River.

What about downwind (or extra area) effects?

> Extra-area effects appear to increase, not decrease, precipitation in the area surrounding and downwind of the target location

The development of precipitation can be quite variable and also largely inefficient. Storm efficiency, the percentage of the cloud mass (water and ice) that falls as precipitation, is about 30 percent for average winter storms. Less intense storms tend to be less efficient, while intense storms with heavy snowfall are likely to be more efficient. The situations in which nature is not efficient can be recognized in real time through targeted monitoring and direct observations. Under some conditions, human intervention can improve cloud efficiencies and repeated interventions can increase snowpack on an area-wide basis.

If cloud seeding is successful in increasing the natural precipitation by a nominal amount, say 10 percent, the additional percentage of total atmospheric water that might be precipitated would still be quite small. Typically, just more than 20 percent of the total water vapor in the air condenses to form clouds as it rises over mountains. The remaining 80 percent of the moisture remains uncondensed because the temperature of the air typically does not get cold enough.

As mentioned earlier, winter storms are typically about 30 percent efficient, so only a portion of the water vapor that condenses naturally when rising over mountains (30 percent of the 20 percent that was condensed), or 6 percent of the total moisture, ends up falling out naturally as precipitation during an average winter storm. An increase in precipitation of 15 percent translates into only an additional 0.9 percent of the total atmospheric moisture available.. Therefore, about 6.9 percent of the total atmospheric water might be precipitated when seeding is conducted. Instrumentation presently used by the National Weather Service would have a difficult time detecting a change on the order of 1 percent, along with the confounding influences of natural variability. These calculations do not consider that this additional water, now on the ground instead of in the air, remains in the hydrologic cycle. For example, a portion of this water would return to the atmosphere on relatively short time frames through evapotranspiration.

There are two mechanisms that may cause downwind (also called extra-area) effects: 1) Downwind transport of ice nuclei and ice crystals from the seeding source and 2) Invigoration of clouds by release of latent heating of freezing and their subsequent propagation out of the target area. Long (2001) provides an excellent summary of previous findings. These findings show

and are summarized in the following tables:

How Far Downwind?

Distance

Study Location

Reference

80-240 km (48 - 144 miles)

Colorado

Grant et al (1971)

80-250 km (48 - 150 miles)

Sierra Nevada, California

Warburton (1971)

100-250 km (60 - 150 miles)

Colorado

Brier et al (1973)

150-200 km (90 - 120 miles)

Santa Barbara, California

Elliott and Brown (1971)

150-250 km (90 - 150 miles)

Santa Barbara, California

Elliott et al (1976)

300 km (180 miles)

California

MacCracken and O’Laughlin (1996)

How Much Enhancement Downwind?

Amount

Study Location

Reference

10-20%

Colorado

MacCracken and O’Laughlin (1996)

15-25%

Sierra Nevada, California

Jannsen et al (1974)

50-100%

Colorado

Elliott et al (1976)

100%

Santa Barbara, California

Grant et al (1971)

200%

Santa Barbara, California

Elliott and Brown (1971)

References
Brier, G.W., L.O. Grant, and P.W. Mielke, Jr., 1973: An evaluation of extended area effects from attempts to modify local clouds and cloud systems. Proceedings of the WMO/IAMAP Scientific Conference on Weather Modification, Tashkent. Publication WMO-No.399. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, 439-447.
Elliott, R.D., K.J. Brown, 1971: The Santa Barbara II project – downwind effects. Proceedings of International Conference on Weather Modification, Canberra. Australian Academy of Science, 179-184.
Elliott, R.D., R.W. Shaffer, A. Court, and J.F. Hannaford, 1978: Randomized cloud seeding in the San Jaun Mountains, Colorado. J. Appl. Meteor., 17, 1298-1318.
Grant, L.O., C.F. Chappell, P.W. Mielke, Jr., 1971: The Climax experiment for seeding cold orographic clouds. Proceedings of International Conference on Weather Modification, Canberra. Australian Academy of Science, 78-84.
Janssen, D.W., G.T. Meltesen, and L.O. Grant, 1974: Extended area effects from the Climax, Colorado seeding experiment. Preprints on the Fourth Conference on Weather Modification, Fort Lauderdale. American Meteorological Society, Boston, 516-522.
Long, A.B, 2001: Review of downwind extra-area effects of precipitation enhancement. J. Wea. Mod., 33, 24-45.
MacCracken, J.G., and J. O’Laughlin, 1996: California cloud seeding and Idaho precipitation. J. Wea. Mod., 28,39-49.
Warburton, J.A., 1971: Physical evidence of transport of cloud-seeding materials into areas outside primary targets. Proceedings of International Conference on Weather Modification, Canberra. Australian Academy of Science, 185-190.

What are other states doing?

California - Precipitation Augmentation

New Mexico - Precipitation Augmentation

Colorado - Snowpack Augmentation

North Dakota - Hail Suppression , Rainfall Augmentation

Idaho - Snowpack Augmentation

Oklahoma - Hail Suppression , Rainfall Augmentation

Kansas - Hail Suppression

Texas - Hail Suppression , Rainfall Augmentation

Nevada - Precipitation Augmentation

Utah - Snowpack Augmentation