back to article Nerds make it rain in Nevada. The Las Vegas strip? No, cloud-seeding drones over the desert

Cloud seeding – spraying chemicals into the air to encourage rainfall – used to be regarded as a fringe science at best, but now it's kind of a big deal. As such, eggheads in Nevada hope to use drones to turn parts of the largely arid US state, otherwise famous for the Las Vegas adult playground, green. The Desert Research …

  1. Likkie

    Shifting rains?

    Won't making rain in Nevada make it not rain somewhere else along the line?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Shifting rains?

      Historically, it was iffy at best as there's many variables involved. A few times that heard about it, it rained heavy several hundred miles away from where they seeded.

      Edit: A quick Google and here: It would appear that they've done a lot of research and things are more predictable.

    2. Public Citizen

      Re: Shifting rains?

      By the time clouds get over Nevada they have already dropped most of their moisture getting over the mountain ranges between the western side of Nevada and the California Coast. The California Coast Range goes up to 4000 feet just a few miles from the coast and the Sierra Nevada Range has multiple peaks well over 10,000 feet.

      Only systems coming out of the Gulf of California [tropical] or moving southeast out of Canada [arctic] consistently contain enough moisture to make much difference farther east. Anything that gets over the Rocky Mountains and still has a significant rain potential has had additional moisture pumped into the system from other sources than where the additional rainfall in Nevada would come from.

      Bear in mind, this is a very arid part of the United States with annual rainfall amounts of 12" or less being the norm. An additional 1/2" of rain is something to get excited about in these arid areas, particularly if it comes in small amounts spread over time and not in one of the cloudbursts that are the normal way much of the rain arrives.

      As a dweller on the Mojave Desert I have personal knowledge of how much difference this amount of rain can make in the local environment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shifting rains?

        Like Public Citizen says, they don't need to get much extra rain to fall where they are for it to make a big difference there.

        If it got to be a problem I'm sure other states would sue Nevada and the federal government would be forced to regulate it or oversee agreements between the states. Maybe when states to their east were experiencing a drought they'd be restricted or prohibited (depending on the severity of the drought) in their cloud seeding, but when they had a surplus of rain they might be permitted to do as much seeding as they want (build up that Lake Mead reservoir)

        Weather forecasts can predict to a fair degree of accuracy whether the moisture that is overhead Nevada that they would like to 'tap' is going to end up going over Colorado and Nebraska or over New Mexico and Texas, for instance, so they'd have a good idea who would be helped or hurt by them doing so.

        1. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

          Re: Shifting rains?

          Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam system certainly need any help that's available. They're close to their all-time low water levels with little obvious sign of relief any time soon. The daily status is here

          (Although it's not too easy to follow)

          This is a classic slow-motion train crash. So slow that the 5-year electoral cycle allows problems to be swept under the carpet for a few years yet, but their apocalypse does seem to be coming. Cloud seeding might really help - for a while.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shifting rains?

        >Only systems coming out of the Gulf of California [tropical] or moving southeast out of Canada [arctic] consistently contain enough moisture...

        Wouldn't that be continental-arctic though? I thought that was generally considered to be dry. The ideal for rain would be tropical maritime, which is what the British isles tends to get coming up from Biscay, when it properly pisses it down. That would be a westerly for Nevada, which is likely the prevailing wind there?

    3. John Bailey

      Re: Shifting rains?

      "Won't making rain in Nevada make it not rain somewhere else along the line?"


      Rain happens when a patch of air gets humid enough to fall out of the sky.

      Not because it needs to reach a quota.

      1. strum

        Re: Shifting rains?

        >Rain happens when a patch of air gets humid enough to fall out of the sky.

        Whereupon it is no longer humid enough to fall out of the sky, somewhere else.

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    AAaaahhhh! Chemtrails!!!

    (If this doesn't bring out all the tinfoil hat brigades, I don't know what will.)

    As it has already been posted, there is the question of what will happen somwhere else. At the scale they are working now, probably nothing much, but it seems they have bigger plans.

    Anyone up for a round of unintended-consequences-bingo?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      There must be some level of making little difference, somewhere as hot as Nevada. Any rain that falls is soon going to be evapourated right back up into the air, ready to fall as rain somewhere else. I seem to remember reading a while ago about climate change in Saudi Arabia. Where they've built sufficient round fields (round because of the water distribution systems) around some towns that those places now get rainfall. Something they's almost never previously had.

      I don't know what the climate effects would be of trying to green the desert though. But I don't know if they're being that ambitious, or just trying to get a little bit of rain.

  3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    This sort of thing

    never really amounts to anything, because:

    Sooner or later the nerds working on stuff like that will discover Wilhelm Reich and start spending more and more time in a cupboard, trying to charge up their sexual energy. After a while the governor (and let's face it, all the states who have an interest in making it rain are located in the Bible Belt) discovers that he has been funding a couple of perverts, cuts the funding and acts like it never happened.

    Cue Kate Bush - Cloudbusting.

  4. Lusty

    Messing with nature

    what could go wrong?!

    Instead of making new green bits, perhaps our US cousins should concentrate on not destroying the existing green bits? It would be considerably simpler...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Messing with nature

      Which existing green bits are we destroying? Saving greenspace in Missouri wouldn't do much for people who live in Nevada, and it isn't all about greening up the desert. Lake Mead dropped massively during a recent drought, and while it has been building back up it is still way below its desired level. If they could get a little more rain to fall now and then they could keep it full. Las Vegas running out of water would put a slight crimp in Nevada's economy, after all!

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Messing with nature

        Las Vegas running out of water would (if we also confiscated all the petrol/gas) make for an excellent reality TV show...

        Corrected your obvious typo for you.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Messing with nature

          Am I being downvoted for the suggestion of a sort of post apocalyptic Big Brother in Las Vegas for our televisual entertainment?

          Or is it because I suggesed taking away the petrol? You have to do that to stop people escaping, but I do now realise that it massively limits the potential for Mad Max style chaos. For which oversight I apologise.

          1. DvorakUser

            Re: Messing with nature

            Don't take away all the petrol; just stop any more from coming in. I'm sure they've got enough in reserve for a little while, at least. Enough for a few good bits of chaos.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Messing with nature

        It's not always about the economy, sometimes it's better to just not try to live in the desert. We don't have to fight with nature, and we don't have to inhabit every square inch of land the planet has to offer. The planet has reached an equilibrium with deserts, ice caps and forests which has a certain climate and weather. Change any of those things and you'll get mixed results, not always good ones.

  5. Alister

    A Drone America spokesman told The Reg that there was a much larger drone in the works that can fly high and long enough to make cloud seeding a possibility. However, it's grounded until the US government can make up its mind on where drones can fly.

    Umm, here's a thought... Use a proper aircraft, instead of pissing about with drones!

    1. Known Hero

      But this is what is trendy !!!!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pilots are extra weight, needing extra fuel and need rest.

      If the intention is to chuck up, say a solar powered plane, being airborne for 24 hours at a time, then a pilot is the wrong answer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why would it need to be airborne for 24 hours at a time? Certainly something with the limited cargo capacity of most non-military drones would only need a couple hours (if even that) to spill its load into the heavens. And if they are trying to do this on any respectable scale, the limited capacity of the drones makes the whole thing suspect.

  6. phuzz Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Why not copy the UAE and build a mountain (to push the humid air higher) to make it rain?

    I'm sure you could build a casino in/on it (or maybe that nuclear waste repository they keep talking about).

  7. Jay 2

    Desert as far as the eye can see... apart from that golf course

    I'm still bemused that whilst Las Vegas is stuck in the desert, surrounded by mountains and is busy draining Lake Mead whilst battling an obvious water problem... there's the rather green and lush golf course behind the Wynn hotel/resort/whatever. I'd like to know how they source the water for that. And now I've just read that the very same place intedends to build a lagoon!

    On a similar note, I believe that the Bellagio lake/fountains are fed from a (private?) well, so by using that they not using the more public supply. Come to think of it, maybe the Wynn also has it's own well.

  8. SPiT

    Silver Iodide won't work

    The basic flaw in this is still using silver iodide. If they really want it to rain they need something that ios known to seed clouds at much higher temperatures which means they should pursuing research on cloud seeding substances rather than delivery arrangements. Unfortunately they probably need to move to biological agents and I can't see them getting that authorised very easily.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Silver Iodide won't work

      Do what I did... have a look here: There's now more than silver iodide.

  9. x 7

    a program on the BBC a few months back made it clear that seeding the clouds with specific bacteria was a better bet than using silver halide

  10. Cyber Pantalaimon

    Dont want to sound like the only ranting hippy but...

    While although I can understand the benefits of making it rain somewhere usually deprived of the rain nessesary for people to thrive... Doesnt this come at the expense of destroying an entire fragile eco system which actually depends/exists purely because of the lack of precipitation? Next people will be wondering how to solve the problem of saving species which depend on the desert like conditions which are being removed by all of this.

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