Seeding the Skies for Rain

Carole McFaddan

In efforts to improve the South American drought crisis, Venezuela is currently moving towards cloud seeding. An El Nino storm is to blame for the dry weather in Venezuela and other parts of South America including Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, and Argentina. The Associated Press reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received cloud-seeding equipment from personal friend Fidel Castro and Cuban President Raul Castro.

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification that attempts to change the amount or type of precipitation that fall from the atmosphere. Dispersing cloud condensation or ice nuclei substitutes into the air serves as the modification. These substances alter the microphysical processes within the cloud with the intent is to increase precipitation, but also to suppress hail and fog, especially near airports. Trees release natural forms of cloud seeding, called terpene, more actively during warmer weather. The clouds reflect sunlight, allowing the forest to regulate its temperature.

Cloud-seeding has been used in various countries including China, Australia, and the United States in efforts to draw more moisture from storms. Chavez has not yet released what method will be used in the Venezuela seeding processes.

The rainy period for Venezuela and northern Colombia usually extends from May to November, so this year’s drought is most likely to intensify as the dry season begins in December. As the country nears toward dry season, President Chavez is trying to squeeze more rain from the clouds because the reservoirs are at the lowest levels in decades. Venezuela’s lack of water in hydroelectric dams is also threatening to worsen the country’s blackouts.

The seeding plan was announced two weeks ago and would begin over the Orinoco and Caroni river basins, near the country’s largest hydro electronic dam. The President has not mentioned a timetable for the execution of the cloud-seeding project.

Critics question the effectiveness of cloud-seeding but it is still viewed as an option in some areas. Water is an increasingly  political issue in Venezuela, with the President’s opposition blaming the government for not planning ahead or building sufficient water and energy infrastructures. Widespread water rationing began in the capital of Venezuela, Caracas, earlier this month.