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North Dakota cloud-seeding bill draws out supporters, detractors

The bill would add new strings to the state’s Cloud Modification Project, which uses planes to reduce the threat of hail and increase chances for rain in western North Dakota.

Funnel cloud
A massive vortex storm cell moves over farmland between the towns of Ross and Stanley in North Dakota's Mountrail County in this file photo. Mountrail is one of the counties that participates in North Dakota's Cloud Modification Project.
David Samson / The Forum
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BISMARCK, N.D. — After the introduction of a bill that could limit North Dakota’s cloud seeding program, Pete Hanebutt, representing the North Dakota Farm Bureau, succinctly summarized the testimony that was to come.

“Either you love it or you hate it,” Hanebutt said, after saying the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s official position was to oppose weather modification, a position reached after much debate.

The hearing before the North Dakota House Agriculture Committee on Friday, Jan. 13, was on a bill that would require counties that want cloud seeding to get approval from neighboring counties, or pay the entire cost of the flights on their own — instead of getting funding from the state to do so.

Opponents of cloud seeding are supporting the bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Ruby, R-Minot. That included farmers from Ward County, where residents in 2000 elected to drop out of the state’s weather modification program, which is intended to reduce hailstorms and increase rainfall.

Roger Neshem, who farms near Berthold in Ward County, says that since the end of cloud seeding for Ward County, his farm has enjoyed the longest hail-free stretch in his records.

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He said supporters of cloud seeding point to reduced hail, but he questioned those statistics and instead pointed to drought as “the real bogeyman.”

Jamie Kouba of Hettinger County called the bill an “awesome step in the right direction.”

The North Dakota Grain Growers Association also submitted written testimony opposing the weather modification and supporting the bill.

Supporters of cloud seeding and opponents of the bill included Dani Quissell of the North Dakota Weather Modification Association, who says the bill infringes on the ability of a county to make its own decisions on cloud seeding, especially if the county is in another state.

Jason Rice, a Montrail farmer and county commissioner, said it’s the people of the county that should vote, not the neighboring county.

While Ward County, in 2020 voted overwhelmingly to opt out of the program, Slope County has voted overwhelmingly to continue.

cloudseedinggraphic.png
Silver iodide is released in the updraft, or like dry ice, placed directly in the cloud. These particles aid in the conversion of supercooled water droplets to ice crystals and eventually snowflakes that melt and become rain.
Courtesy North Dakota Cloud Modification Project

In the middle, testifying as neutral was Darin Langerud, director of the North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board, which oversees the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project.

He did point to studies by North Dakota State University and Michigan State University that show the benefits of cloud seeding outweigh the costs. Cloud seeding is used in 10 western U.S. states.

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“That (cloud seeding) enhancement does carry downwind a bit before it dissipates with time and distance. So the notion that seeding clouds in an upwind target is reducing precipitation downwind is not borne out by the science,” he said.

The Agriculture Committee took no action on the bill.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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