UW Researcher Leads Study of First Quantifiable Observation of Cloud Seeding

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From the University of Wyoming:

A University of Wyoming researcher contributed to a paper that demonstrated, for the first time, direct observation of cloud seeding — from the growth of the ice crystals through the processes that occur in the clouds to the eventual fallout of the ice crystals that become snow — and how the impacts could be quantified.

The research, dubbed SNOWIE (Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds — the Idaho Experiment), took place Jan. 7-March 17, 2017, within and near the Payette Basin, located approximately 50 miles north of Boise, Idaho. The research was in concert with Boise-based Idaho Power Co., which provides a good share of its electrical power through hydroelectric dams.

“No one has ever had a full comprehensive set of observations of what really happens after you seed the cloud,” says Jeff French, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Atmospheric Science. “There have only been hypotheses. There has never been a set of observations from one campaign that shows all the steps that occur in cloud seeding.”

French credits modern technology, citing the use of ground-based radar, radar on UW’s King Air research aircraft and multiple passes of the mountain range near Boise with making the detailed cloud-seeding observations happen. Despite numerous experiments spanning several decades, no direct observation of this process existed before SNOWIE, he says.

French is the lead author of a paper, titled “Precipitation Formation from Orographic Cloud Seeding,” which appears in the Jan. 22 (today’s) issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the world’s most prestigious multidisciplinary scientific journals, with coverage spanning the biological, physical and social sciences.

Other contributors to the paper were from the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Idaho Power Co.

“SNOWIE was a great collaborative effort, and it shows the value of private, public and academic partnerships,” says NCAR scientist Sarah Tessendorf, a co-author of the paper.

Tessendorf notes that SNOWIE grew out of research that Idaho Power Co. had conducted with NCAR to improve its cloud-seeding program. This included the development of high-resolution computer modeling approaches to simulate cloud seeding, enabling researchers to better evaluate its impacts.

“This research shows that modern tools can be applied to long-standing scientific problems,” says Nick Anderson, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the study. “We now have direct observations that seeding of certain clouds follows the pathway first theorized in the mid-20th century.”

Cloud seeding is a process by which silver iodide is released into the clouds, either from the air or via ground-based generators. In the case of the SNOWIE Project, the silver iodide was released by a second aircraft funded through Idaho Power Co., while the UW King Air took measurements to understand the impact of the silver iodide, French says.

In all, the UW King Air made 24 research flights or intense observation periods (IOPs) lasting 4-6 hours each during SNOWIE. Of those IOPs, cloud seeding occurred during 21 of the flights. During the last three flights, Idaho Power had to suspend cloud seeding because there was so much snow in the mountains already, French says.

While a good deal of research took place aboard the King Air, much of it also occurred on the ground. Numerical modeling of precipitation measurements was conducted using the supercomputer, nicknamed Cheyenne, at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center. The numerical models simulated clouds and snow precipitation — created in natural storms and with cloud seeding — over the Payette Basin in Boise. The numerical models also allow researchers to study future storm events where measurements have not been obtained in the field.

“Midterm, it will help with those simulations we are running on Cheyenne,” French says. “Long term, we can answer questions with this data and simulations on how effective cloud seeding is in orographic clouds, and what conditions one can expect cloud seeding to be effective.”

Throughout the western U.S. and other semiarid mountainous regions across the globe, water supplies are fed primarily through snowpack melt. Growing populations place higher demand on water, while warmer winters and earlier spring reduce water supplies. Water managers see cloud seeding as a potential way to increase winter snowfall.

“Ultimately, water managers and state and federal agencies can make the decision whether cloud seeding is a viable option for them in terms of adding additional water to their supplies in addition to snowpack in the mountains,” French says.

From Science Magazine (Angus Chen):

…despite decades of cloud seeding operations, proof that the technique works outside miniaturized clouds created in the lab has been elusive. One reason: Instruments of decades past couldn’t measure water droplet size in clouds in real time. Without knowing how a cloud evolves after seeding, scientists were unsure whether the silver iodide was doing anything at all. Another: The chaotic nature of weather makes controlled, natural experiments almost impossible. “Once you seed, you’re contaminating the cloud. You can’t repeat the experiment because you’ll never have the same atmospheric conditions again,” says Katja Friedrich, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

But newer instruments convinced Friedrich and her colleagues that the time was ripe for another approach—and the National Science Foundation and Idaho Power provided the funding. The team took its experiment to the mountains of southwestern Idaho, where it waited until supercooled clouds appeared in the sky. At temperatures of 0°C to –15°C, they are cold enough to freeze, but are at low odds of doing so.

When the right clouds came along, the team sprang into action. It launched one aircraft that made laps between two ground-based radars, dropping canisters that spread silver iodide into the clouds. The same plane also flew through the cloud while streaming silver iodide from its wings. Another plane loaded with cloud measuring equipment paced a perpendicular path to take readings.

At first, there was nothing. “The radar can only see [water] particles that are big enough, and these clouds had tiny droplets not detectable by radar,” Friedrich says. “Suddenly, we saw lines appear. It was really astonishing.” The zig-zagged lines matched the flight path of the first plane. Within these lines, the cloud’s water particles were getting bigger as they hit the silver iodide and froze. After a couple of hours, the snowflakes had grown from a few microns in diameter to 8 millimeters in diameter—heavy enough to fall to the ground, Friedrich and her colleagues report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We were super, super excited. Nobody had seen that before,” she says.

The experiments have also been met with enthusiasm from cloud seeding companies. “Those of us working on cloud physics for a long time have felt that [cloud seeding] was working,” says Bruce Boe, a meteorologist at cloud-seeding company Weather Modification in Fargo, North Dakota. “This verification and incontrovertible evidence this is occurring is really, really nice for us.”

Still up for study is whether the approach is economical. “Does it make enough snow to make an impact on a water budget?” Friedrich wonders. “We still have to answer those fundamental questions.”

#Snowpack news: Good snowfall for #Colorado ski areas

Westside SNOTEL basin-filled map January 22, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The snow didn’t completely make up for seasonal shortfalls in Northern Colorado communities nor the mountains, which feed municipal water supplies through snow melt, but it was a start.

Here are snow totals as of Monday morning throughout Northern Colorado, according to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network:

Fort Collins: 2.5 to 5 inches (official total: 3.9 inches)
Loveland: 1.3 to 4 inches
Windsor: 3 inches
Wellington: 2 inches
Berthoud: 2.2 inches
Laporte: 3.6 inches
Timnath: 2 inches
Estes Park: 4 to 5 inches

Up to 2 feet of flakes graced Colorado ski areas, many of which have been starved for snow this season. Here’s a sampling of ski area snow totals from Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 23 ski areas and resorts:

Steamboat Resort: 10 inches
Cooper: 13 inches
Echo Mountain: 12 inches
Arapahoe Basin: 7 inches
Copper Mountain: 7 inches
Aspen Snowmass: 6 to 13 inches at its four resorts
Silverton Mountain: 24 inches
Wolf Creek Ski Area: 23 inches

The storm was also a welcome addition to mountain snowpack, most significantly in the South Platte River and Upper Colorado River basins. Snowpack in the the South Platte basin jumped from 85 to 90 percent of the average for this time of year between Friday and Monday. In the Upper Colorado basin, snowpack increased from 72 to 78 percent of the average.

Snowpack remains well below average throughout the rest of the state.

@CWCB_DNR: January 2018 #Drought Update

Colorado Drought Monitor January 16, 2018.

Click here to read the update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Taryn Finnessey, Tracy Kosloff):

The start of Water Year 2018 has been warm and dry across most of the state. However, recent precipitation in the northern half of the state has helped those basins, while storms have largely missed the southern half of the state. November 2017 was the warmest November on record, while December was the 7th warmest on record. The three month period from October through December was 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the long term average, making it the warmest October- December on record (123 years). This warmth resulted in the state as a whole breaking more than 1700 warm records during the same time frame.

 As of January 17, statewide precipitation at SNOTEL sites is 62 percent of average. The North and South Platte basins have experienced the highest levels of precipitation in the state, at 92 and 100 percent, respectively. Southern basins such as the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan , Rio Grande and Gunnison basins are well below normal precipitation at 25, 32 and 43 percent respectively. The Arkansas Basin is also well below normal with only 57 percent of average annual precipitation to-date.

 Many basins have water year to-date snowpack that is tracking most closely with the minimum accumulation on record. While this does not mean that the year will end that way, large deficits in precipitation become harder to make up for the further along in the season we get.

 Statistical analyses indicate that it will be hard for the state as a whole to reach normal snowpack given current conditions; however this varies from basin to basin with northern basins significantly better off than those in the south.

 Reservoir storage statewide is at 115 percent of normal, with all basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 143 percent. The Gunnison basin has the lowest storage levels in the state at 104 percent of normal.

 24 percent of Colorado is classified as abnormally dry (D0), while 76 percent is classified as experiencing drought. 53 percent is categorized as moderate drought (D1), while 23 percent is categorized as severe drought (D2).

 SWSI values have dropped quickly over the last few months; much of the western half of the state is classified as extremely dry or slightly dry. The Animas Basin is the lowest in the state at -3.67. The big Thompson is the highest at 2.06.

 Water providers in attendance report their respective system storage levels are at or above average for this time of the year, but the lack of snowpack in concerning and being closely monitored.

 Short term forecasts show that temperatures will be more seasonal with about average precipitation for much of the state over the next two weeks.

 A weak La Niña remains in force for now, and forecasts indicate that warm and dry conditions are likely to persist through the spring. It is unclear what will happen during the summer months.

How Beer Will Save Western Rivers — Outside Magazine

Verde River near Clarkdale along Sycamore Canyon Road. Photo credit: Wikimedia

From Outside Magazine (Keridwen Cornelius):

Environmental organizations have for years encouraged farmers to convert to barley, which uses about half as much irrigation water as alfalfa and cotton. In the Southwest, this camel of crops could be especially beneficial, because it keeps water in rivers at the right time. Barley is planted in January; irrigated in spring, when rivers are flush; and harvested in June, when water is scarce. Converting just one-tenth of Verde Valley crops to barley would keep 200 million gallons of water flowing in the Verde River each summer.

But farmers have hesitated to switch for a simple reason: money. Barley’s most common use is for animal feed, which is a money-loser. So when [Kim Schonek] was devising a way to save the Verde, she thought of a way to raise local barley prices by pairing farmers with an industry that uses a lot of barley and a lot of water: breweries.

“It’s kind of a new conservation technique,” Schonek says. “Instead of paying farmers every year to reduce the water they’re using, we can create a market that will drive farmers to change their water use.”

Beer-destined barley pays 50 percent more than feed barley, which would definitely help motivate farmers to switch. But the plan had its risks. Most of the barley used in U.S. craft beers comes from Canada and Europe, and Arizona doesn’t have an established barley industry. Schonek would have to make one, and she’d also have to convince farmers that the long-run financial benefits outweighed the financial hit some might take in the transition period. Fortunately, over the previous years, Schonek had created cooperative relationships with farmers in the area and had already persuaded many to replace the inefficient river-diversion gates—which farmers operated by jumping on—with automated gates that saved millions of gallons of water a day. Schonek was currently working with them to transition to drip irrigation. And it was this trust—plus the benefit of the Nature Conservancy’s financial backing—that helped her convince farmers to start Arizona’s first beer barley industry.

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

“We care about the river; it’s the only reason there’s farming here in the first place,” says farmer Zach Hauser, whose family owns the largest swath of farmland in the Verde Valley. “We have a huge interest in the health of the river, so anything we can do while still making a living is a win-win.”

Schonek brought in experts to teach the Hausers to grow Harrington two-row barley, and the Nature Conservancy agreed to subsidize any losses during the experimental years. Last season, the Hausers planted 144 acres of barley, some of which was sold to Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. The brewers were so excited to have river-saving local barley that they plan to completely switch.

“Brewing is a water-intensive activity,” says Chase Saraiva, head brewer at Arizona Wilderness. “It’s pretty much a water sport, so we need to be conscious of where our water is coming from and be proactive in taking measures to help in any way we can.”

But there was one missing link: malting. Because there are hardly any malting facilities in the West, they had to malt that first batch of barley in Texas. That’s not sustainable, so Schonek teamed up with Chip Norton, board vice president of Many Rivers Brewing in Colorado, which contributes all of its profits to saving rivers. Together, next month, they will launch Sinagua Malt, a local malting facility that will dedicate profits to river conservation.

When Schonek drove me around the Verde Valley, the elements of the project were nearly in place. The Hausers’ loamy fields were ready to be sown. Next to their barns, plastic-draped malting equipment and a silo of nutty-scented raw barley waited for construction to be completed on the Sinagua Malt warehouse in Camp Verde. “The potential for a market-solution approach to crop conversion exists in lots of tributaries in the Colorado River Basin,” says Norton, holding up a handful of barley. “A lot of people are pretty excited about this, and they’re watching us closely to see if it’ll work as a way to improve stream flow and improve the flow of the Colorado River.”

If the plan works, it will be the first time an environmental organization has created a new market for the purpose of river preservation—and there’s evidence that it’s already making a difference. Last July, Schonek and her family returned to that same five-mile stretch of dry Verde River. This time, they paddled the entire way.

What it takes to protect forests and watersheds year-round – News on TAP

Dry start to winter helps — and hurts — forest management in Denver Water’s critical water collection areas.

Source: What it takes to protect forests and watersheds year-round – News on TAP

Drought? Wildfires? Low snowpack? – News on TAP

TAP takes on the top questions posed by Reddit users.

Source: Drought? Wildfires? Low snowpack? – News on TAP

2018 #COleg: HB 18-1008 (The Mussel-free #Colorado Act) sails out of committee

One valve of Dreissena bugensis. Photo credit: Wikimedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Colorado has done well keeping aquatic nuisance species out of its lakes and rivers, but that won’t continue to be the case if it doesn’t properly fund a program combating them, sponsors of a bill to raise fees to pay for that program said Monday.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing establishing a $25 annual fee for a special boat stamp — $50 for out-of-state boaters — that would come on top of the annual boat registration fee the state already assesses on the more than 90,000 boats that use Colorado waters.

The fee is expected to raise about $2.3 million a year, which is about half of what the program costs, said Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, who’s sponsoring the bill along with Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Don Coram, R-Montrose.

“It’s better to have a sustainable source of income coming from the people who use the waterways to fund this,” Arndt told the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, which approved the measure 10-3…

While some state lawmakers said the bill didn’t properly address the program’s entire funding needs, others said the fee should be higher.

“I’m not a wild fan of fee increases or a large fan of government intervention; however, I can tell you that this fee amount is a compromise,” said Kellen Friedlander, who testified on behalf of the Colorado Marine Dealers Association. “Colorado registrations are still one of the lowest, so we’re not asking for something that’s … totally out of whack with other states. We’re still relatively inexpensive to register boats.”

Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said it would be worse for Colorado’s rural economy if the state were forced to close lakes because of such nuisance species as the zebra mussel.

“If we are not successful at this … everybody is going to pay to get those little buggers off the pipes,” Catlin said. “I really think the state of Colorado has a serious problem, and if we don’t get with it we’re going to have one we can never solve.”

The bill also would increase penalties for boaters who fail to get inspected before launching, raising that fine from $150 for a first offense to $500.