March 22, 2023

Weather watch: an excerpt

Topic: Issues

Last week, Straight Talk podcast host Emmery Mehlhoff visited with Representative Matt Ruby about weather modification legislation and how his bill would fulfill NDFB policy. Here’s an excerpt from the podcast. (Edited for clarity.)

Host Emmery Mehlhoff: Today, I have Representative Matt Ruby and we're going to be talking about weather modification. Tell us about yourself, about your district and how long you've been in the Legislature?

Rep. Ruby: I represent District 40, which is the north part of Minot. I represent a lot of rural area around Minot and half the Air Force base. I got elected in 2016 and I've served on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for all four of my sessions. I served on the Education committee my first session and now I've served on Human Services for three sessions, and am the Vice-Chair of that.

Emmery: Let's dive into talking about weather modification. You have a bill to put some rules in place for weather modification, correct?

Rep. Ruby: Yeah, so it's House Bill 1166 and it originated from one of my constituents. A few years back, Ward County had passed a resolution overwhelmingly to discontinue funding weather modification in our county. What fueled HB 1166 is counties that still do weather modification spray right up to the Ward county line and we still get the effect of that weather modification. You can track when a storm is coming in and the airplane sprayers go up and right as the storm is about to come over our area where we're supposed to get a good soaking, the storm dissipates. And so there was some frustration with that.

The original version of the bill required approval from neighboring counties before weather modification could occur. We amended the bill in the House and took away the state’s cost share of the program and put a two township setback from a nonparticipating county. If the county next to a weather modifying county does not participate or have a weather modification program, then the county has to stop spraying two townships away. We also tightened up authorization. The bill passed the House and is in the Senate.

Emmery: How widespread is weather modification across the state?

Rep. Ruby: There are four counties in North Dakotas that participate. Most of them are along the Montana border and in that southern part of the state. I think it should fall back to local control. If counties want to do it and they want to fund it, then they can. I don't agree with it, but that's got to be local.

Emmery: I think it's interesting you talk about the local control; What are the potential effects on counties neighboring weather modification?

Rep. Ruby: Yeah, like I said, you can kind of control when that rain drops. If you're watching when the storm first starts and kind of predictors on the weather websites or online, you can kind of see where it's supposed to hit over a certain area and is what happens when they go up and they start spraying, it dumps sooner and ends the storm faster as the storm is getting over where it initially would have if it had just been on its own. I'm not going to say that that's to blame for drought or anything like that, that's obviously a much bigger scale situation. Certainly in areas that are experiencing some sort of drought, when that little bit of rain that they're supposed to get doesn't come, it is a kick-em-while-their-down situation. (or create that pile on effect).

Emmery: When NDFB adopted the resolution opposing weather modification, our members were concerned that when we start interfering with the weather, it will have unintended consequences.

Rep. Ruby: I think the science is pretty split on weather modification in general. From a legislative perspective, when the science is split, it’s hard to justify funding a program. When you're dealing with atmospheric stuff, the pressure and the temperature and wind and all of the different factors, it's hard to get sound science. And until that happens, I'm going to default to saying that we shouldn't mess with Mother Nature.

Emmery: Thank you so much, Representative Ruby. I appreciate the work that you are doing in the North Dakota legislature to advocate for agriculture in North Dakota.

Rep. Ruby: It's my pleasure. I appreciate you having me on.

After the interview with Rep. Matt Ruby, Emmery talked with Roger Neshem from Ward County who explained how weather modification works. Roger’s grandfather helped start the weather modification program in Ward County and after several years of implementation, Roger helped eliminate the program. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

Emmery: How does weather modification work?

Roger Neshem: The theory behind weather modification is they introduce nuclei, which are made of burning silver iodide and they inject these micro particles in the updraft of a storm. The thought is to create over-competition in the storm. Inside storms, there's something called supercooled water, which is water that is not in a frozen state, that is sub 32 degrees.

Most of the weather modification in North Dakota is hail suppression and rain enhancement.

The theory behind hail suppression is if they introduce silver iodide into the cloud, they're going to have more embryos for which that supercooled water will attach to. So instead of having, for complete example’s sake, a hailstone the size of a bowling ball, you injected a bunch of embryos there for that supercooled water to attach to. Instead of having a bowling ball, you've cut it into 100 pieces, and it's all the size of marbles. The theory is that by the time it hits the ground, it'll be melted. That is what is attempted.

The first study done on this in the '70s in northeast Colorado was going to be a five year study. They quit after three years because all of their hail suppression efforts actually led to increased hail. I've always used the example in Ward County where Ward county had a 20 - 30 % higher hail loss ratio than all the counties around us that were not conducting hail suppression.

Emmery: How does rain enhancement work?

Roger: The planes have two burners to burn silver iodide. Rain enhancement involves turning on one burner. Hail suppression involves turning on two. Rain enhancement creates early rain out but there's nothing they can do to make a storm last longer. So guys can get shorted on their moisture.

The thing about weather modification is just because you have a county line in place or a township line, what they do in those clouds doesn't just stop right then and there when they turn the switch off in the plane. Studies on weather modification show there’s still stuff left in the clouds hundreds of miles downstream. You've changed the cloud dynamics and modification does weaken a thunderstorm. You can watch them when they start seeding, you'll actually see the cloud tops decrease as the storm weakens.

To hear the rest of the interview and Emmery’s conversation with Rep. Ruby and Roger Neshem, listen here.