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Enhancing Snowfall Weather modification project wraps up

Casper – Shortages of water in Wyoming have caused concern for agriculture producers and city dwellers for many years. As a result, the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) began a weather modification project a number of years ago.

“We are moving into the final winter of our weather modification experiment,” says Barry Lawrence, project manager with the WWDC, “and our generators are scheduled for dismantling next summer.” 

Lawrence adds that the final report is on track to be completed during the first quarter of 2015.

“If we can quantify the pilot portion of this project to say we will see ‘x’ amount of increased snowfall from cloud seeding, it would really validate the credibility of the cloud seeding program in Wyoming,” Representative Mark Semlek comments. “I can’t say enough about the wisdom of the folks who set this program up, including Barry Lawrence and others.”

Starting a weather project

When the weather modification project first started, Lawrence notes it was never billed as an operational state program, but the goal was rather to develop a research effort designed to test the efficacy of cloud seeding.

“The blueprint for this program was set up based on recommendations from the National Research Council that called for a more robust program to test the efficacy of cloud seeding,” he says. “The actual proof of concept portion of the  cloud seeding study goes back to 2008-09, but there was work done before that.”

Lawrence adds that their experimental process goes beyond just measuring snowpack, extending to analysis of additional stream flows and involvement of hydrologists to assess impacts of cloud seeding.

“We took a very robust look at cloud seeding,” Lawrence comments.

Despite the high cost of the program, Semlek adds, “I think WWDC did this project right, even though there was a fairly high cost associated with it.”

Last season

The project is entering its last winter this year, and Lawrence says they are working to continue building cases to obtain statistical significance. 

“Ideally, scientists would like to see 30 cases this year,” he adds. “The program started on Nov. 15, and we had an event this past weekend. We have to take advantage of all the events and opportunities that we can.”

In generating their final report, Lawrence notes that one-third of the program’s budget will be spent on independent evaluation.

“It is critical that the operators aren’t evaluating their own results,” he said. 

Next steps

“We won’t have the report until 2015, but the generators are scheduled to be dismantled this summer,” he explains. “If cloud seeding is something that makes sense and works, it doesn’t make much sense to pull the generators and then redeploy them later.”

“The Commissioners considered a possible recommendation that showed interest in the generators targeting the Wind River Range,” Lawrence explains. “There is interest from the Lower Basin and local stakeholders to not dismantle these generators.”

In an effort to avoid a disruption in traction, Lawrence notes that WWDC Director Harry LaBonde included funding in his recommendation to maintain the generators.

WWDC developed a cost estimate looking at the approximate funding requirements to operate the generators during the winter of 2014-15.

“Director LaBonde’s recommendation was for one-quarter of the cost that Wyoming would have to run these generators,” he said.

The remaining funding will be solicited from Lower Basin  beneficiaries of the project as part of a larger Colorado River Basin flow augmentation initiative.

Working together

“Because there is interest in weather modification as a result of known water shortages, if other entities were to come up with a 75 percent match, we would have our 25 percent of the funding ready to go to keep the generators in place,” Lawrence explains. “This would be a cost-share scenario.”

“We set aside $200,000 as a placeholder to see if we can get matching money from other stakeholders,” comments Representative Mark Semlek. 

However, Lawrence also mentions a drop-dead date of Aug. 1. If funds are not in hand to operate the generators by Aug. 1, 2014, the generators will be dismantled.

Prior to seeking outside funding, Lawrence also notes that the funding must first be approved by through the Wyoming Legislature. 

For the current weather modification project, Lawrence adds, “We are methodically working toward the finish line, and we look forward to presenting our results. We are anxious to get these results out.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..