The Hustle

Why silver is suddenly all up in your snow

Western states are experimenting with the strange science of cloud seeding to fight drought.


February 26, 2020

Coloradans who spent extra time shoveling snow out of their driveways last year should direct complaints to their local university.

In a paper published Monday, a team of University of Colorado scientists revealed the results of an effort to turbocharge weather patterns — with a few sprinkles of the compound silver iodide. At some test sites, snowfall nearly doubled.

It’s called ‘cloud seeding’ — but you might call it cloud’s cradle

Since the process often involves silver iodide, it’s tempting to picture scientists shooting cannons of Tiffany & Co. sterling into the sky. But cloud seeding is a bit more complicated.

The compound is dropped onto clouds from circling planes — it’s supposed to speed up the growth of ice crystals.

Where did this idea come from? Kurt Vonnegut’s brother Bernard was one of the first scientists to use silver iodide to spruce up weather patterns — the idea influenced the fictional “ice-nine” in Kurt’s book Cat’s Cradle.

Everyone wants to be their own Weather Channel

Cloud seeding has weathered a turbulent half-century of life. The US tried it during the Vietnam War; China followed suit during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The results have been mixed, but that hasn’t cooled excitement. Several Western states are getting into cloud seeding to fight intensifying droughts.

And the private sector is forecasting more successes: A group of corporations with dystopian names, like Weather Modification, Inc, are jockeying to cash in on the trend.

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