Here we are with another dry year, another year of high fire danger in Colorado. Isn't this a sorry forecast? You could easily ask why someone doesn't do something about the weather, eh?
Well, last week Sharon Sullivan wrote a Free Press story about the cloud-seeding on Grand Mesa. You know? To make more snow. It's amazing that this program has been going on since at least the 1990s, and tests were underway in the 1970s and 1980s.
She pointed out that there are 16 of Colorado's 106 cloud-seeding units on Grand Mesa, but that Vail and Beaver Creek have been making extra snow since 1975. There's a lot of evidence that Grand Junction, for one place, has had more Grand Mesa water to use as a result of this project.
It's part of the Weather Enhancement Authority project, funded by Grand Junction, Powderhorn Ski Area, Collbran, various water districts, Delta County, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado River District, and even some lower basin states.
Sharon's story reminded me how one man brought it all about. He died in 1996 after an amazing career in developing long-range weather forecasting and in making rain. And snow.
Weather modification continues to be an obscure science. For snowpack in the Colorado River Basin it just quietly works. Yet today we still get the usual "it won't work" from a variety of folks, both educated and those just knowing you can only talk about the weather, not manipulate it.
Colorado nearly had a statewide program in 1951, thanks to Dr. Irving P. Krick. He was invited here by Gov. Dan Thornton and the Denver Water Board to increase Colorado's snowpack.
The Grand Mesa cloud-seeding is part of Dr. Krick's legacy. The New York Times wrote that Dr. Krick believed that weather patterns repeated themselves, and that by studying historical data and applying the information to current conditions, accurate forecasts for weeks, months or even longer could be obtained. In the community of weather forecasters, predictions beyond about five days are considered shaky at best. The NBC weather personality Willard Scott once described long-range forecasts as "about as valid as the warranty on a used camel."
But neutral analysts found Krick's long-range forecasts to be accurate 85% of the time. Wow!
"Storm" by Victor Boesen is the story of Dr. Krick and his lifelong pursuit of what was obvious to him. California's water famine in the mid-1970s could have been prevented, Krick declared, by seeding all river basins along the Sierras and the Upper Colorado River Basin to increase the snowpack, as he wanted to do when he moved to Denver. Nothing came of the Colorado plan because Congress failed to pass legislation, introduced by Sen. Peter Dominick, that would have provided money for the project.
"The annual flow of the Colorado could be increased by at least two million acre-feet a year," Krick maintained flatly. "Stored at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in surplus years, this would help meet any contingency during droughts such as that now being experienced in California. Thus, there is no excuse in 1977 for water curtailment in the state." Seeding the Columbia River Basin when appropriate would also alleviate electric power shortages in California.
Even for day-to-day operations, seeding to increase rain or snow must be done in advance, Krick stressed. "The whole air stream ahead of the weather front - maybe hundreds of cubic miles - is infused with silver iodide crystals, ready to go to work when the front arrives."
It's no good waiting until a likely looking cloud comes along and then rushing aloft with an airplane and squirting it with silver iodide from wing mounts. "Cloud-chasing" as Krick scornfully called it was "primitive," tried and discarded as ineffective by him and his associates a generation ago.
At best, this frenetic procedure may bring down 5 or 10 percent more water than would have fallen on its own.
By the use of ground generators, in contrast to aircraft, Krick routinely doubles a snowfall and increases the rain from an individual storm by several hundred percent - up to 50 percent of historical averages for the year, he maintained.
Krick forecast the 1977 drought that afflicted the West and recommended countermeasures that were not taken. His private concern has served hundreds of farmers, ranchers, airlines, individual companies, local and foreign governments. He has made it rain in Spain - and in France and Italy too. Through his cloud-seeding efforts, wheat flourished in the parched lands of Israel. He has made it stop hailing in Alberta and provided the right amount of snow for the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. Those games were about to be canceled when Dr. Krick had his way with the clouds. The games went off as scheduled, saved by the weather guy.
Meanwhile the weather bureaucracy insisted that Krick didn't know what he was doing.
So today we still have the Krick blueprint for what to do in the West. Hmmmm.
Why care? Because all over the West we're seeing less and less water each year. Do you think we ought to call on Dr. Krick's memory, then actually do something about the weather?
Just as the Weather Enhancement Authority has done on Grand Mesa.
Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.