Why Has It Been Raining So Much In San Diego? The Answer Is Likely Man-Made Weather Modification

February 21, 2024

Wondering why it's been so rainy in Southern California in early 2024? The answer may lie in a program that uses man-made weather modification to increase precipitation.

Last year, Southern California water officials announced a four-year pilot program aimed at increasing precipitation by 5-15% for the year. The program's plan was to release silver iodide particles into the atmosphere using 15 ground-based seeding generators located near the base of mountains surrounding the Santa Ana River watershed basin.

"The idea is to use particles, in this case, silver iodide, and have them generate or enhance more precipitation in clouds so it falls as snow and ends up augmenting our water supplies," explained Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority General Manager Jeff Mosher. 
The manipulation of weather patterns has long been a fascination for humanity, leading to the development of various techniques and technologies aimed at altering or controlling atmospheric conditions. Among these, cloud seeding stands out as a prominent method that has been employed to influence precipitation and weather patterns around the globe for decades. 

The concept of modifying weather conditions dates back to the early 20th century, with the pioneering work of Vincent Schaefer and Irving Langmuir in the 1940s. In 1946, Schaefer, a researcher at the General Electric Laboratory, conducted the first successful cloud seeding experiment by introducing pellets of dry ice into a cloud. This led to the formation of ice crystals, which initiated snowfall. Langmuir and Schaefer's groundbreaking experiment marked the birth of cloud seeding as a scientific discipline.
Following the success of their initial experiments, Langmuir and Schaefer collaborated with the U.S. military on Project Cirrus, an ambitious initiative aimed at harnessing weather modification for military purposes. The project involved seeding clouds with various substances, including silver iodide, to manipulate precipitation. However, the unintended consequences of Project Cirrus, such as severe storms and unintended shifts in weather patterns, raised ethical and environmental concerns.

Silver iodide emerged as the preferred seeding agent due to its ability to mimic the natural ice nucleation process. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, researchers and meteorologists conducted numerous experiments using silver iodide to enhance precipitation in drought-prone regions. The technology gained traction in agricultural circles as a potential tool for water resource management.

As the world grappled with issues of water scarcity and drought, cloud seeding gained popularity as a tool for agricultural and water resource management. Governments and private entities initiated cloud seeding programs to increase rainfall in arid regions, replenishing water supplies for agriculture and domestic use. China, in particular, has been a global leader in large-scale weather modification efforts, using cloud seeding to alleviate water shortages in various regions.

Despite its potential benefits, cloud seeding has not been without controversy. Critics argue that the long-term environmental and ecological impacts of weather modification are not fully understood. Questions about the unintended consequences of altering natural weather patterns, as well as ethical concerns regarding the manipulation of the atmosphere, have fueled debates on the appropriateness of widespread cloud seeding initiatives.
The U.S. military used cloud seeding as part of the controversial Operation Popeye during the Vietnam War. This military weather modification program aimed to extend the monsoon season in Southeast Asia, in order to disrupt enemy supply lines. While the project was classified for many years, its eventual exposure fueled public skepticism and intensified the controversy surrounding weather modification.

Use of weather modification during war eventually led to the Environmental Modification Convention treaty of 1977. This international treaty aimed at preventing the hostile use of environmental modification techniques. Also known as the ENMOD Treaty, it was developed in response to growing concerns about the potential for military or other hostile activities to exploit environmental modification, including weather modification, to cause harm to other nations.

Key provisions of the treaty include a commitment by signatory states to refrain from using environmental modification techniques that could have widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects on the environment. States are also obligated not to assist or participate in such activities, ensuring that the treaty's principles extend to both direct and indirect involvement. To date, the Environmental Modification Convention has garnered widespread support, with numerous countries becoming parties to the treaty. 

As cloud seeding technologies have progressed over time, private companies and agricultural interests began experimenting with its applications. States in arid regions like California and Texas invested in cloud seeding programs to enhance water supplies and combat drought. The idea was that by artificially inducing rainfall, water resources could be replenished and agricultural productivity increased.

Critics argue that the introduction of cloud seeding agents, such as silver iodide, into the atmosphere may have unintended environmental consequences. Potential ecological impacts on soil, water quality, wildlife, and human health are subjects of concern. Furthermore, some weather modification programs lack transparency, leaving the public uninformed about ongoing operations and their potential impacts.

In recent years, advancements in technology and scientific understanding have led to more sophisticated approaches to cloud seeding. From unmanned aircraft to ground-based generators, new methods are being explored to enhance precipitation in targeted areas. 

From its early roots in military applications to its contemporary use in addressing water scarcity, cloud seeding remains a topic of ongoing research and debate. As technology continues to advance, the potential for harnessing weather modification techniques responsibly may offer solutions to some of the challenges posed by a changing climate. However, the ethical and environmental considerations surrounding these practices underscore the need for careful evaluation and responsible deployment of such technologies.
The question remains, if San Diego's leadership was indeed aware of the longstanding inadequacies of San Diego's stormwater infrastructure, why not attempt to resolve said issues if increased precipitation was on the horizon? Currently, the needs for San Diego's stormwater system is larger than the unfunded needs of the city's roads, sidewalks and streetlights combined. 

The torrential storm of January 22, 2024, revealed massive problems with San Diego's stormwater drainage system. The first official accounting of damage in San Diego County from the storm estimated that more than 800 homes were impacted by flooding, local schools across the region sustained an estimated $4 million in damage, and the county received approximately 3,414 damage reports, of which almost 1,200 were uninsured. FEMA has estimated about $31 million in damage to public infrastructure around San Diego County from the storm.