The Western US is in a severe drought, with many areas experiencing drought-like conditions since the early 2000s. While lots of energy is spent debating what is causing these conditions (human-induced climate change vs. natural climate variations), not as much energy is spent attempting to generate and implement solutions to reverse these drought conditions. This is not good since the threat of this drought is imminently threatening to the economy and wellbeing of the general population. One possible solution that may be able to help the ongoing water crisis is cloud seeding.
First of all, what even is cloud seeding? Cloud seeding involves injecting small non-toxic particles into the atmosphere to encourage precipitation, whether rain or snow. It works by providing atmospheric moisture with a nucleation point––in other words, something that water droplets can “cling” onto to form raindrops or snowflakes. In environments where the atmospheric humidity is high, like in a cloud, cloud seeding can bring tangible effects. Some estimates put cloud seeding’s effectiveness at up to an additional 15% precipitation totals.
Cloud seeding can be done from the air by fixed-wing aircraft or on the ground using a ground-based particle dispenser. The estimated ground-based cloud seeding costs as little as $4 per acre-foot of water produced while seeding by air is about $75 per acre-foot. Hence, cloud seeding (ground-based methods, especially) may be a fairly cost-effective and efficient solution to ease the effects and worsening of the Western US drought.
While cloud seeding alone won’t help fix the drought, it could absolutely help the parched situation in the Western US. An organized array of cloud seeding devices aided by occasional aircraft missions may significantly improve the drought situation in the region.