In 2008, China began to assemble banks of artillery around Beijing, 6,781 artillery guns and 4,110 rocket launchers. Thousands of civilians, many of them peasant farmers without military experience, were enlisted to man the gun. The government was concerned about the upcoming Beijing Olympics, not the security of the games, but for the weather. My name’s…
We’ve been relying on and contending with the rain since the dawn of time, but it’s surprisingly recently that we really started to understand how rain came to be. In the 1830s, meteorologist James P. Espy put forward the theory that convection was the primary cause of rain. As heated updrafts rose into the sky, they cooled and their moisture condensed, resulting in cloud formation and precipitation. This cutting-edge theory landed him a job with the U.S. Army as the nation’s first meteorologist, and almost immediately raised a question we’re still trying to answer — can humans mimic or even manipulate this natural process? His approach — lighting huge fires along the Appalachian Mountains would provide the heat, smoke, and particulate matter needed to trigger storms and bring the rain, under favorable conditions, of course. Espy pitched his idea to Congress, claiming that if these fires were set on a weekly basis (he preferred Sunday evenings), the now-regular rains would eliminate droughts, heat waves, and cold snaps; prevent river flooding, and keeping the air clean and healthy by washing down noxious vapors. I’m extrapolating from incomplete data here, but I’d bet my heart-shape butt the word miasma was used in that presentation. Miasma theory of course being the pre-germ-theory belief that bad air, mal aria, caused and spread disease. Espy’s convection theory had raised his reputation in scientific circles. The rainmaker idea, not so much. If anything, he was probably worse-off for it professionally. Nathaniel Hawthorne thought Espy belonged in the “Hall of Fantasy”—a marketplace of wild ideas perfectly suited to the fantasies of rain kings and climate engineers: “Professor Espy was here, with a tremendous storm in a gum-elastic bag.” Ooh, better conjure up some rain to soothe that burn.
Epsy’s work was not without precedent, at least in terms of the purpose, to bring rain that humans need to sustain their crops, livestock, and themselves. Yes, Native North Americans, of course, but we see ceremonies and rituals to call up favorable weather on the other five occupied continents as well. I’ll risk making as ass of myself with the assumption that Antarctic penguins *don’t have rain ceremonies, since the coastal areas see a whopping 6 inches of precipitation a year and inland sees even less. Get on it, penguins. Lazy little maitre de cosplayers.
Rain has been a central concern for societies in more arid parts of Africa, so much so that the power to make rain is usually attributed to kings. In a number of African societies, kings who failed to produce the expected rain ran the risk of being blamed as scapegoats and killed as sacrifice or punishment. Take for instance the Modjadji, or Rain Queen, of the Balobedu of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The Rain Queen is believed to have special powers, including the ability to control the clouds and rainfall. The succession to the position of Rain Queen is matrilineal, so males are not entitled to inherit the throne at all. In Ethiopia and the Sahara to the north, rain dances are not uncommon, culturally speaking.
In ancient China, Wu Shamans performed sacrificial rain dance ceremonies in times of drought. Wu anciently served as intermediaries with nature spirits believed to control rainfall and flooding. Shamans had to carry out an exhausting dance within a ring of fire until, sweating profusely, the falling drops of perspirations produced the desired rain.
In Europe, the Slavic and Romanian rainmaking ritual of Paparuda has survived into the 20th century. A young girl, dressed in a skirt of yellow leaves and flower garlands to symbolize the nature goddess Dodala, dances through the streets while older women sing and pour water on her.
But let’s talk about Native Americans. Step one: we remind ourselves that “Native Americans” were not a similar cohesive group anymore than “Europeans” were at *any point in history. Before Columbus ruined everything, we’re talking anywhere between 7 and 18 million people, depending on which estimate you prefer, spread out across the continent, speaking hundreds of different languages. Hell, you could name enough tribes off the top of your head to illustrate the point. Go ahead, I’ll wait. [pause] Rain dances are more common in areas where rain is not, so they’re more likely to be found in cultures in the plains and the southwest. This is best documented among the Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes of Missouri and Arkansas. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that Native Americans have had to struggle to maintain […] During the 1920s and 30s, certain Native American tribal ceremonial dances were banned by the United States government because they were considered to be “backwards” and dangerous by those of the modern world.
Instead of painting with a broad brush and undoing what I was just talking about by trying to lump many diverse rituals into one description. Let’s look at the Zuni of New Mexico. Unlike most other rituals, rain dances are performed by both men and women, which is less common than rain rituals performed exclusively by men. What’s a ceremony without ceremonial costumes? The men generally wear masks decorated with vibrant colours such as turquoise, blue, yellow and red. A fringe of horse hair hangs from the bottom of the mask, which covers the throat, and three white feathers hang from the top of the mask. Beads, a fox skins and body paint complete the look. The women usually wear their hair in a special wrap at the sides of their heads. They wear masks as well, but theirs are white and have goat hair around the top and an eagle’s feather, which hangs over their face. The women wear a black dress with no parts of their bodies showing other than their bare feet, with a brightly-coloured shawl with one black and one white shawl over that. Describing the choreography would require language skills I lack, but I’ll leave you with the facts that men and women form separate lines and participants move in a zigzagging pattern.
That’s not say that we can’t deliberately influence the weather. You’ve probably heard of cloud-seeing somewhere along the way. No shame if, like me, you weren’t 100% certain if it was a real thing that people did and if it actually works. Cloud seeding is a weather modification technique that improves a cloud’s ability to produce rain or snow by artificially adding condensation nuclei to the atmosphere, providing a base for snowflakes or raindrops to form. After cloud seeding takes place, precipitation falls from the clouds back to the surface of the Earth. Clouds are made up of tiny water droplets or ice crystals that form when water vapor in the atmosphere cools and condenses around a particle of dust or salt. Without these particles, known as condensation nuclei, raindrops or snowflakes cannot form and precipitation will not occur. Today, silver iodide and dry ice are the most common chemicals used for seeding. The chemical is introduced into the cloud which induces the formation of ice crystals by providing the nuclei for water to condense. Liquid propane is sometimes also used, which turns into a gas at cold temperatures, freezing the surrounding air so that crystals form spontaneously out of the vapor.
Cloud seeding was discovered by accident in July 1946 by scientist Vincent Schaefer, when he was experimenting at General Electric Research labs in New York. He was trying to produce a cloud in a chest freezer, as you do, but it wasn’t cold enough, so he tossed in some slabs of dry ice. To his surprise he found that when he incidentally exhaled into the air of the freezer, it created snow crystals. By the by, you know how we’ve been really concerned about respiratory droplets for the past year and a half? And you know how when you breathe out in the winter, you can see a vape-like cloud? Those are respiratory droplets; that’s what wearing a mask contains. Schaefer then worked with Bernard Vonnegut, the older brother of author Kurt Vonnegut, to develop silver iodide, a compound that could increase the size of water droplets, and large enough water droplets could be cozened to rain or snow indoors. As research moved forward, however, Schaefer and Vonnegut saw weather modification become less about modifying weather and more about enhancing it, helping the weather do what it was going to do anyway.
Science is pretty split on the possibility of weather manipulation, leaving aside all of its ethical implications for now. Weather modification is a pretty sci-fi-sounding concept and it tends to inspire ideas and projects that sound like they fell off the loose pages of a deteriorating pulp paperback. Take for example hail cannons, which we’ll get more into later. Proponents claim the concussive force of the noise the cannon makes can stop hailstorms by shattering the hail with shockwaves. They’ve been used often throughout Europe since the early 20th century and are still in use today, even thought there’s precious little evidence of the hail cannon doing sweet Fanny Adams about the hail.
After the experiments at G.E.’s Research Lab, there was a feeling that humanity might finally be able to control one of the greatest variables of life on earth. And, as Cold War tensions heightened, weather control was looked at from a whole new angle, the angle that it could be used as a weapon by the US against the Soviets. Ah, the Cold War, that bad penny that keeps turning up. How is it I can’t bring up dubious science without name-checking the Cold War? It only lasted for 44 years, a narrow slice of history. Dr. Edward Teller, the “father of the H-bomb” testified in front of the Senate Military Preparedness Subcommittee that he was “more confident of getting to the moon than changing the weather, but the latter is a possibility.” [guest reader] In August 1953, the President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control was formed to determine the effectiveness of weather modification procedures and the extent to which the government should engage in such activities. Here are some of the highlights: [sfx drumroll] using colored pigments on the polar ice caps to melt them and unleash devastating floods; releasing large quantities of dust into the stratosphere creating precipitation on demand; use a satellite to focus sunlight to scorch foreign cities; and building a dam fitted with thousands of nuclear powered pumps across the Bering Straits — you get the idea. This hypothetical Russian dam would redirect the waters of the Pacific Ocean, raising the temperatures in cities like New York and London. This was ostensibly to “relieve the severe cold of the northern hemisphere,” but if you believe that, I have some swamp land in Florida you might be interested in.
These weren’t underground-bunker secrets; plans for weather manipulation were openly discussed in the media during the mid-1950s on both sides. The December 11, 1950 Charleston Daily Mail ran a short article quoting Dr. Irving Langmuir, who had worked with Schaefer: “Rainmaking” or weather control can be as powerful a war weapon as the atom bomb, a Nobel prize winning physicist said today. Dr. Irving Langmuir, pioneer in “rainmaking,” said the government should seize on the phenomenon of weather control as it did on atomic energy when Albert Einstein told the late President Roosevelt in 1939 of the potential power of an atom-splitting weapon. “In the amount of energy liberated, the effect of 30 milligrams of silver iodide under optimum conditions equals that of one atomic bomb,” Langmuir said. [guest reader]
In 1953 Captain Howard T. Orville was named chairman of the Committee on Weather Control and he could hardly seem to miss a chance to talk to newspapers and magazines about how the United States might take control of the literal skies. The May 28, 1954 cover of Collier’s magazine showed a man quite literally changing the seasons by a system of levers and push buttons. That cover is like 50% of the Google image results for weather manipulation.
“A weather station in southeast Texas spots a threatening cloud formation moving toward Waco on its radar screen; the shape of the cloud indicates a tornado may be building up. An urgent warning is sent to Weather Control Headquarters… And less than an hour after the incipient tornado was first sighted, …The storm was broken up; there was no loss of life, no property damage. This hypothetical destruction of a tornado in its infancy … could well become a reality within 40 years. In this age of the H-bomb and supersonic flight, it is quite possible that science will find ways … to make weather almost to order.” [guest reader] The author of the story — Capt Orville.
An Associated Press article from July ‘54 by the science reporter of Minnesota’s Brainerd Daily Dispatch, sought to explain why weather control would offer a unique strategic advantage to the United States. “It may someday be possible to cause torrents of rain over Russia by seeding clouds moving toward the Soviet Union. Or it may be possible — if an opposite effect is desired — to cause destructive droughts which dry up food crops by “overseeding” those same clouds. And fortunately for the United States, Russia could do little to retaliate because most weather moves from west to east.” [guest reader] This quien es mas macho reminds me of a particular George Carlin quote which I can’t include in a family show without it sounding like morse code with all the censor bleeps.
JELLYFISH IN SPACE
A lot of private inventors hoped to spit in the face of the thunder god by summoning storms at will. Introducing Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst who claimed could produce rain, and cure any number of diseases, by manipulating “orgone energy” present in the atmosphere. His rainmaker is called a cloudbuster. It “worked” much like a lightning rod: focusing it on a location in the sky and grounding it in some material that was presumed to absorb orgone, such as a body of water, would draw the orgone energy out of the atmosphere, causing the formation of clouds and rain. Reich conducted dozens of experiments with the cloudbuster, calling the research “Cosmic orgone engineering”.
About that orgone energy. It’s bunk, hokum, utter crap, but it’s bullocks with some panache.
Reich claimed that orgone energy is omnipresent and accounts for such things as the color of the sky, gravity, galaxies, the failure of most political revolutions, and a good orgasm. In living beings, orgone is called bio-energy or Life Energy. Reich believed that orgone energy is “demonstrable visually, thermically, electroscopically and by means of Geiger-Mueller counters.” Reich also claimed to have discovered other entities, like bions, alleged vesicles of orgone energy which are neither living nor non-living, but transitional beings. However, only true believers in orgone energy, who go by the nominative “orgonomists,” have been able to “prove” this existence of orgone or bions. Funny that.
The cloudbuster, one of Reich’s two prized inventions, consists of an array of parallel hollow metal tubes which are connected at the rear to a series of flexible metal hoses which are equal or slightly smaller in diameter to the parallel tubes. Alternatively, the rear of the tubes are joined together to a single large diameter pipe and flexible metal hose. The open end of these hoses are placed in water, which Reich believed to be a natural orgone absorber. The pipes can be aimed into areas of the sky to draw energy to the ground like a lightning rod. If you’re even up Rangeley, Maine way, you can see the remains of one of the cloudbusters. Reich’s other baby, debuting in 1940, was a six-sided box constructed of alternating layers of organic materials (to attract the energy) and metallic materials (to radiate the energy toward the center of the box). It looked like an old-timey ice chest-type fridge. It was meant to gather and retain orgone, like an ethereal oven, to cure disease. Patients would sit inside the accumulator and absorb orgone energy through their skin and lungs. The accumulator had a healthy effect on blood and body tissue by improving the flow of life-energy and by releasing energy-blocks.
Orgone treatments became fairly popular and the money came rolling in, both from treating patients and selling the accumulators, but not everyone bought what Reich was selling. Two very negative press articles, titled “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich” and “The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy,” got the attention of the Federal Drug Administration, whoe sent an agent to investigate Wilhelm Reich. In 1954, the FDA issued a complaint about an injunction against Reich, charging that he had violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by delivering misbranded and adulterated devices in interstate commerce and by making false and misleading claims. The FDA called the accumulators a sham and orgone-energy nonexistent. A judge issued an injunction that ordered all accumulators rented or owned by Reich and those working with him destroyed and all labeling referring to orgone-energy destroyed. Reich did not appear in person at the court proceedings, choosing instead to defend himself by letter. Even with the law glaring at him, Reich continued in the orgone accumulator business, landing him in jail for two years for violating the injunction. The Food and Drug Administration not only declared that there is no such thing as orgone energy, they had some of Reich’s books burned—a sure-fire way to ignite interest in somebody.
There have been no verified instances of a cloudbuster ever working and Reich is largely forgotten, except for one notable exception. Wilhelm Reich’s cloudbuster was the inspiration for Kate Bush song “Cloudbusting” in 1985. The song describes Reich’s arrest and incarceration through the eyes of his son, Peter, who later wrote the memoir A Book of Dreams. A prop cloudbuster, bearing only a superficial resemblance to the genuine article, was built for the video. The video is where it gets really cool. Bush intended it to be more like a short film rather than a music video. The overall idea was her collaboration with famed mad genius and absurdist Terry Gilliam, and the video/art house film was directed by Julian Doyle, the director of Time Bandits, Brazil, and three Monty Python moxies! And it starred Donald Sutherland as Reich and Kate Bush as his son, Peter. I’m more of a “Running up that hill” person, but I actually prefer the cover by Placebo.
Reich wasn’t the only pie-eyed optimist to make a cloudbuster. Some chemtrail conspiracy theory believers have built cloudbusters filled with crystals and metal filings, which are pointed at the sky in an attempt to clear it of chemtrails. You can see pretty readily how talk of weather manipulation would be like heroine to a conspiracy theorist. This wouldn’t be a bother to anyone if they kept it on 8chan, Parler, and the Alex Jones subreddit, but some like to make themselves a problem for the folks who work at HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Gakona, Alaska. HAARP uses radio transmitters and antennas to heat up the ionosphere, the uppermost region of the atmosphere, to study things like how charged particles behave in the ionosphere and to produce an artificial aurora. They also field phone calls. Angry, profane phone calls. The world’s most advanced ionospheric research facility has in its lifetime faced allegations of being a ‘military death beam’, a weapon of weather control and even a mind control ray. My research this week included a video where a VICE reporter listens to the calls with one of the researchers and the ignorance was just excruciating; I won’t be including a clip. The reporter visited an author who’s made actual money writing multiple books about all the nefarious stuff HAARP is up to, and that’s when I hit the back button. Work-life balance, y’all.
Did you see the posts for Mystery Monday yesterday? It’s a little contest on the social media (urls) where, like when X won last week. Clue #3 was a toy set of the Weather Dominator from GI Joe Revenge of Cobra miniseries. If you have told me when I watched that in 198-mumble, that it was a case of art imitating life, I wouldn’t have believed you. Well, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have understood it, but that’s neither here nor there. Yup, we have weather machines in our war machine. Between 1949 and 1952, Operation Cumulus was an attempt by the British government to learn to control the weather via cloud seeding, primarily for future military advantage. However, on August 16, 1952, a severe flood in the town of Lynmouth occurred after nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Infrastructure was damaged and 34 lives were lost. Although no evidence was found that Project Cumulus was to blame, the project was abandoned after the event.
Fast forward to Vietnam, March 1967 to July 1972, where we were doing….stuff….things. Not good things for the people or the environment. Agent Orange, of course, horrific substance, decent band, was just one color in a terrible rainbow of environmental destruction and birth defects. Lesser known and luckily less effective was Operation Popeye, the plan to extend the monsoon season. That’s a rainy season brought on by prevailing winds, and the word monsoon actually refers to the wind, not the rain. The targeted region was North Vietnam and Laos, specifically over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an important artery for the North Vietnamese moving soldiers and supplies south. The idea was that cloud-seeding would bring on extra rain to make roads impassably muddy and cause landslides. The 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew the cloud-seeing missions under the slogan, “make mud, not war.” The aircraft were officially on weather reconnaissance missions and the aircraft crews as part of their normal duty also generated weather report data. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, was aware that there might be objections raised by the international scientific community but in a memo to the president, he said that such objections had not been a basis for preventing military activities before, so long as they were considered to be in the interests of U.S. national security. This program was allegedly sponsored by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the CIA without the authorization of then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who had categorically denied to Congress that a program for modification of the weather for use as a tactical weapon even existed. The name Operation Popeye made it into the public with a brief mention in the Pentagon Papers and an article in the New York Times. If you’re worried I’m going to have a near-endless list of weather weapons. Don’t worry, the sun set on them officially in 1977, with the Environmental Modification Convention, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, an international treaty prohibiting the military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects. More forms of weather modification or geoengineering were banned by the Convention on Biological Diversity of 2010.
So we’ll have to keep our meteorological meddling to ourselves. In 2005, Nissan installed 20ft hail cannons at its plant in Mississippi after a hailstorm, much to its neighbours’ annoyance. A hail cannon is a shock wave generator claimed to disrupt the formation of hailstones in the atmosphere. The concept goes farther back than you’d expect, the wine-growing regions of France, church-bells were traditionally rung in the face of oncoming storms, later to be replaced by firing rockets or cannons, the regular kind. These days, a mixture of acetylene and oxygen is ignited in the lower chamber of the machine. As the resulting blast passes through the neck and into the cone, it develops into a shock wave. This shock wave then travels through the cloud formations above, a disturbance which manufacturers claim disrupts the growth phase of hailstones. When activated, the system fired off gunshot-like sounds into the sky… every six seconds.
Manufacturers claim that, rather than damaging lumps of ice, the precipitation falls as slush or rain. It is said to be critical that the machine is running during the approach of the storm in order to affect the developing hailstones, although all manufacturers unanimously agree that the radius of the effective area of their device is less than 500m directly above. That’s .3 miles. Even if you busted up all the hail in that circle, won’t more hail just blow in in five minutes anyway.
Farmers have also used hail cannons to try to prevent their crops from being crushed. Other farmers, however, like those who live near a VW factory in Mexico, where hail cannons are supposed to protect the brand new cars rolling off the production line. The devices are being blamed for causing a drought during months when farmers were expecting rain.
While some may be convinced of the hail cannon’s power, scientists have their doubts. A review by the Dutch meteorologist Jon Wieringa concluded that these technologies were “a waste of money and effort” – a sentiment echoed by the World Meteorological Organization. “The only beneficial effect of firing explosive rockets and grenades at hail clouds may be the emotional satisfaction of the gunners, who have fired at the enemy,” he wrote. [guest reader]
[segue] In 1947, a U.S. tropical hurricane that was moving west to east was seeded in an attempt to modify it. The hurricane then turned west and made landfall at Savannah, Georgia. This was blamed on the experiment, and the seeding of hurricanes was abandoned for over a decade.
Between 1962 and 1971, Project Stormfury was undertaken by the U.S. to seed a hurricane’s eyewall with silver iodide to weaken the storm. After what appeared to be some initial success with a noted drop in wind speed after seeding, it was determined that the results were inconclusive and such projects were again abandoned. In terms of current and future weather modification, several western states regularly practice cloud seeding to produce additional rain or snow. And in January 2011, it was reported that scientists in Abu Dhabi created over 50 artificial rainstorms between July and August of 2010 near Al Ain, which borders Oman. They used large ionizers to create fields of negatively charged particles which created clouds and rain — out of what had otherwise been a clear blue sky. Lightning, hail, and wind gusts even accompanied some of these storms.
And that’s…The 2008 summer Olympic games were held in August, the rainy season around Beijing. The world’s largest sporting competition is a tightly scheduled affair that the whole world is watching. You can’t afford rain delays. So China seeded clouds that were approaching the venues, so they would do their raining before they got to the games. If you ask the government, it worked a treat. Scientists, however, disagree. Remember…Thanks…