'Hellseeding' say the critics
Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011 06:00 am
There have already been 80 hours of work logged by pilots of Weather Modification Inc., based out of the Old-Didsbury Airport, this month alone.
The company, sponsored by Alberta Severe Weather Management Society (ASWMS), a group of insurance companies that privately funds cloud-seeding in the area, spent 11 of the first 21 days of June shooting silver iodide in the clouds as a way to shrink ice stones and reduce property damage, said Terry Krauss, PhD in meteorology and program director for the ASWMS.
“It’s been a very active June,” Krauss said.
But this activity, which has occurred every June to September for the last 16 years, is worrisome for some Mountain View Country residents who say meddling with Mother Nature isn’t right.
“We can see from our house when they fly over and we can see their tanks. I saw them two times (last) year and that was the two times we saw hail,” said Wendy Schroeder, who lives west of Sundre and noticed it for the first time last season. She said the first time she saw the planes go by was July 8 and “within 35 minutes we were pounded. It was an immediate drop of the hail,” she said.
“There was no damage to the property but the gardens were quite badly thrashed.”
Schroeder said the hail pounded down for seven minutes with big gusts of wind that flooded into her house where the windows weren’t sealed. “In seven minutes we had two inches (of rain) and there was no grass.” She said a couple of days later the same thing happened.
“The timing of this is highly suspicious and can’t be ignored.”
Schroeder said she’s only seen the seeding planes once this year and while there wasn’t any hail that followed, she noticed a yellow film left on grass and on her vehicles that she said happens every time a plane goes by and rain or hail follows.
She believes the iodide is toxic and bad for livestock, plants and humans.
She isn’t the only one.
Alberta Agriculture funded a five-year study from 1974 to 1978 called the Alberta Hail Project. The project, similar to the one funded today by ASWMA, seeded all potential hail clouds for five years. The project was continued until 1985 when it was stopped because of “inconclusive scientific data,” said Cam Hantiuk, media relations for the premier’s office.
Hantiuk said because of the controversy surrounding cloud seeding, the province doesn’t plan to involve itself in this activity any time soon.
The province, meanwhile, has no control over the privately funded program operating in the region.
“It isn’t regulated by the province because it’s weather,” said Erin Carrier, director of Alberta Environment. “Weather is more of a federal regulation, if there is any, to be honest.”
Carrier said Alberta Environment has received several letters of concern from residents but their response is always the same.
“It has always been – and not to pass the buck – but we’ve had letters on this before and we’ve always referred them to the federal government. We don’t do weather. We’re like air, land, water.”
Calls to Environment Canada had not been returned at press time.
The lack of provincial regulation worries Louis Bauman, south of Sundre, who’s been following cloud seeding since the government’s involvement in the 1970s.
His brother Joseph, who has since passed away, fought with the government back in the late ’70s and early ’80s to stop the project. He said it wasn’t right that the government was meddling with the natural course of weather and said such activities were devastating for agriculture, livestock farming and recreation.
“Is it lawful in Alberta to change the natural course of the weather by physical and chemical intervention to produce artificially positive rain and hail storm in one part in order to prevent contingent rain and hail in another?” he wrote in an affidavit to the Red Deer Provincial Court in 1984.
Louis and his brother brought their claim to court in 1982 but never got to present their case. Dates were bumped around. Louis said the case ended up getting settled out of court.
“We were promised they would never do the cloud seeding again in the Bergen-Sundre area,” said Bouman. And in 1985, the government stopped the project.
But in 1996, the seeding started up again – this time funded by the private insurance companies.
“Really, they did nothing,” said Bauman. “No one’s alive anymore so they can try it again.”
Terry Krauss of ASWMA said he was part of the Alberta Research Council during the Alberta Hail Project in the ’80s.
“As far as I know, a lawsuit was threatened but I never heard there was any conclusion. If there was, I never heard of it in the record,” he said. “It may have helped the government make up their mind but it wasn’t because of the lawsuit. If there was some debate it made it easy for them to cut it for budget reasons.”
He said he hears criticism all the time but said claims that what they’re doing is meddling with nature is inaccurate.
“What we are doing is not changing the weather on a large scale. It’s treating individual storms to kind of change the hail into rain and in that regard it’s like putting out a brush fire; not even a forest fire, a brush fire. It’s treating with chemical amounts that are very small, it’s not even a poison.”
He said other concerns, such as the potential hazard of the iodide, are misunderstood, adding that the environmental impact from the iodide is much less than fertilizer. He said all of the chemical used in one season would fit into the back seat of a car.
Ben Hofer, a resident of the county, thinks the long-term effect of “putting out brushfires” will be devastating.
“Something isn’t quite right; something is going on,” Hofer told the Gazette last year. He’s lived in the Sundre area for the last 50 years and said he was hired to work in Penhold during the ’70s when the Alberta Hail Project was in full force.
Hofer said he was responsible for picking up hailstones to see if there had been any change in the size from the silver iodine.
“We quit with it because it didn’t accomplish nothing. You can’t control nature. Cloud-seeding is just some fancy name for creating an electrical storm,” he said. He believes that the seeding only suppresses a storm until eventually it needs to be released. He used the example of a hailstorm on Aug. 2, 2009 that devastated the area.
“It builds up and it builds up … until it breaks loose and gets worse.”
The cloud-seeding project with a $2 million annual budget is funded by more than 20 of Alberta’s top insurance firms that represent 90 per cent of all insured companies, said Krauss.
Four aircraft are used; two are stationed in Red Deer and two in Calgary. The storms are monitored and identified from the control centre in Olds-Didsbury Airport.
From the Olds-Didsbury Airport the project covers an area from Lacombe in the north to High River in the south and the two main targets are the cities of Calgary and Red Deer.
“Maybe the seeding will help Olds and Calgary by pre-emptying the clouds onto us, but what sort of reasoning is that, and how fair could that be?” asked Schroeder in a letter to the editor last year.
“We pay insurance too, but who wants to replace their roof every year? Messing with the weather is dangerous, and nothing truly positive has been proven.”