The North Dakota Cloud Modification Project (NDCMP) is an operational program that seeds clouds for hail damage reduction and rain enhancement in western North Dakota. Counties currently participating in the program are Bowman, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward, Williams, and part of Slope.
The North Dakota Cloud Modification Project
Operational cloud seeding got its start in North Dakota in the 1950s, when ground-based seeding activities began in the west. By the late 1950s, hail was recognized as the greatest weather-related threat to small grain crops; many growers suffered significant hail damage or total losses in back-to-back years.
The beginnings of what is today's North Dakota Cloud Modification Project came about when Bowman County farmer-rancher Wilbur Brewer joined forces with pilot neighbors Bill Fisher and Bill Mazaros to form Weather Modification, Incorporated, the state's first all-airborne commercial cloud seeding company. Seeding first for just a few townships, then later entire counties, the program expanded and spread eastward throughout much of North Dakota. The program at that time was entirely locally sponsored.
In the early years, silver iodide was the seeding agent, released in the updrafts of mature storms perceived to pose a hail threat. Though little was known about how the hail suppression effect came about within the clouds, the results were positive (Butchbaker 1973). In 1975, support from the State of North Dakota was sought, and the North Dakota Weather Modification Board was created as a division of the Aeronautics Commission. In 1976, state cost-sharing was available for the program for the first time, and a total of 17 counties participated in the NDCMP.
Within the next few years, participation diminished sharply in the eastern portion of the state, but remained in the west. While the reasons for this are subject to some conjecture, it is noted that in general, the eastern half of North Dakota receives significantly more rainfall, which of course lessens the desire for more moisture, and hence the program. It was noted by Dr. Archie Kahan, while director of the United States Bureau of Reclamation's cloud seeding research program, that "Interest in weather modification is soluble in rain water." In Dr. Kahan's words lies a basic truth about humanity, that being when one has an abundant supply of an essential commodity, they lose interest in acquiring more-- at least until they run short again.
As cost-sharing dollars were pared from the board's budget, additional counties dropped from the program in the west. However, although a portion of the last to leave rejoined the program for the 2000 project season. A resurgence of interest has recently developed after several very positive evaluations of the NDCMP, prompting, in part, the addition of Williams County to the program in 1997 and Burke County from 2015-2018.
In 1980, a federally-funded research program was undertaken to develop an understanding of the physical processes involved in hail and precipitation formation, and how such processes might be best modified beneficially. The program, known as the Federal-State Cooperative Program in Atmospheric Modification Research, was funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the Department of Commerce.
Roughly half a million federal dollars per year were pooled with the available state resources to collect and analyze thunderstorm data. Major field efforts were mounted every three to four years, while analysis efforts filled the years between field efforts. A great number of technical papers from this research program were included in national scientific publications. The program, unfortunately, was a budget casualty in 1994, but renewed efforts are underway to involve the federal government in cloud seeding research.
The ARB gained national recognition through the Atmospheric Modification Research Program, and in the process built strong ties with the Center for Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota, the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and several NOAA research laboratories including the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Ties and interactions with the National Weather Service were also strengthened.