Program manager says cloud-seeding worked
SUMMIT COUNTY – The cloud-seeding program begun last fall to increase spring runoff is going out like a lion.
Cloud-seeding operations were called off for most of the past week’s storm, but the program’s manager believes the efforts have padded the snowpack by at least 10 percent.
The program started Nov. 1 and will run through the end of this month.
“It’s pretty hard the way the winter has gone and the snowpack has been accumulating to say there hasn’t been some effect,” said Larry Hjermstad, manager of Western Weather Consultants. “I’d say (cloud seeding added) 10 to 15 percent and possibly even greater.”
Hjermstad is required to shut down his machines when avalanche warnings are in effect, so he only seeded in Summit County last Monday and part of Tuesday. Additionally, this week’s storm came east to west; the ideal cloud-seeding storm travels west to east.
“We shut things down Tuesday, but I knew snow amounts were going to be so significant, it didn’t seem like it was necessary,” he said.
Denver Water, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District hired Hjermstad in an untraditional effort to try to bolster snowfall. The added snow ideally will translate into more water in the agencies’ mountain reservoirs. The agencies paid Hjermstad $700,000 to run the program.
But there may be other factors at work this winter, too. El Nino, the weather phenomena that heats ocean surface temperatures so much that jet streams are tugged off course, might deserve some credit. El Nino typically delivers wet winters to Colorado, say scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the phenomena has been affecting weather across the country this winter.
Even though it’s difficult to gauge the results of this season’s program, Denver Water manger Chips Barry has no regrets about hiring Hjermstad.
“I’m still in favor of the cloud seeding,” he said. “I’m not unhappy we did it this year at all.”
This winter’s pattern of storm systems gave Hjermstad the opportunities he needed to squeeze extra moisture out of the clouds, he said. Without the storms, cloud seeding is a useless exercise.
“It was the kind of winter that was needed to at least have a chance to begin recovering (from the drought),” Hjermstad said. “A lot of people are finally starting to breathe easy. The program, I feel, has been doing what it was supposed to do with the opportunities we had. This system kind of puts the frosting on the cake.”
Barry and Denver Water board members will take a closer look at the program’s results later, he said.
Like others, Barry said the abundance of snow doesn’t spell an end to the drought.
“Our difficulty is trying to figure out how much of this snow is above our reservoirs and how much does it translate into additional reservoir storage,” he said. “We know it will be a substantial amount, but it’s too soon to say we’re out of the woods.
“It’s likely we will still have restrictions (for Denver Water customers) this summer. We’re certainly grateful for this snow. Does it mean Dillon’s going to fill this year? I would say probably not, but we still have six to eight weeks of snow to come.”
Hjermstad said he’s curious to hear Denver Water’s assessment of the program and to learn what Barry may say to him.
“I hope it’s thank you,” he said. “That’s the only word I really need to hear.”
The Denver Water, Upper Arkansas and Southeastern Colorado cloud-seeding program took place in Summit, Grand, Park, Lake and Chaffee counties, and in parts of Eagle and Pitkin.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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