Cloud seeding aid accumulating data in Grand County
December 29, 2016
In October, a cloud seeding aid was placed on top on of the Winter Park Town Hall to assist in the monitoring of the cloud seeding program in Grand County. The device called a ceilometer uses a laser to determine the height of a cloud base.
Town Hall was chosen because the ceilometer needs a location with access to Internet and electricity. The electricity usage is approximately five amps per month (about 55 cents per month). The data usage is approximately a half a megabyte per month. The additional Internet service did not require upgrades as the current system had adequate space.
Cloud seeding generators in Grand County
There are currently two cloud seeding generators in the Fraser Valley—one to the north of the Younglife camp at Crooked Creek Ranch, and the other near Churches Park in Fraser. The generators are remotely operated and controlled from Reno, Nev. They have been in place since 2009.
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) monitors the cloud seeding program. According to their website, DRI currently has five cloud seeding operations: the San Juans (Mancos) Project, the San Miguel (Telluride) Project, Tahoe and Truckee basins, Walker Basin, and the Winter Park/ Denver Water Project. The purpose of the program is to augment snowfall in mountainous regions that supply water to northern and southern Nevada, and increase the snowpack and resultant runoff from the targeted basins.
Joe Busto, the Weather Modification Coordinator for the Colorado Water Conservancy Board (CWCB) issues permits for weather modification programs and makes data available to the public about the programs. Busto said DRI "wrote the book" on quality cloud seeding. His job is to build partnerships between companies that make cloud seeding machines and cloud seeding programs, mostly in the western United States.
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The town of Winter Park received a request from the CWCB, Denver Water and Winter Park Resort to place the ceilometer on the Town Hall building to aid them in their cloud seeding program. It detects multiple layers of cloud height and measures the liquid water available in the clouds. The ceilometer will allow DRI to provide better forecasting for the cloud seeding program. Cloud height forecasting allows DRI to be more efficient with when to operate the two generators. The generators are turned on and off remotely by DRI. The ceilometer provides additional information when a storm is approaching and DRI can activate the generators to increase snowfall.
In addition to the cloud seeding program, the ceilometer is available to pilots flying into Grand County. The pilots can determine the base elevation of the clouds as they approach the runway at the Granby/ Grand County Airport. The ceilometer is approximately four feet tall and is attached to an existing concrete pillar.
Grand County was a good candidate for a cloud seeding program because the generators could be installed at a high elevation. The generators sit at around 8,900-9,200 feet in elevation.
Winter Park Resort
Winter Park Resort has been a large contributor to the cloud seeding program and has worked closely with Busto and DRI.
The cloud seeding generators stimulate the precipitation process through the use of flames that burn a solution of silver iodide, sodium iodide, salt and acetone to release microscopic silver iodine particles, which create ice crystals that are picked up by clouds and eventually fall as snow.
Busto said Winter Park Resort's Director of Mountain Planning Doug Laraby did a lot of the legwork with the town of Winter Park for the approval of installing the ceilometer. Laraby, Busto, and DRI were the collaboration that started the cloud seeding program, which began in 2009. Busto provided the funds to purchase the ceilometer, which cost $28,000. He began working for the state in 2002 and has overseen many operations since then. Busto said the cloud seeding program in Winter Park was one of the first meaningful projects he worked on because of the potential of a successful program in this area.
Data collection and visible results take time in a cloud seeding program, according to Busto. It is not like turning on a snowmaking gun and watching the snow pile up before your eyes. Busto said it can take up to 15 years to be able to confidently say that a cloud seeding program is effective and have the data to back it up. An effective cloud seeding program will see an increase in snowfall of about 5-10 percent a year. He recalled a storm in December of 2015 where Winter Park Resort received about 10 inches more snow than surrounding areas. While Busto said he couldn't prove it was due to cloud seeding; he is confident the program is effective.
The CWCB staff monitors snowpack, avalanche hazards, and other environmental conditions during winter. Using data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) the CWCB will temporarily suspend or curtail cloud seeding activity in areas with high snowpack and high avalanche hazard levels when warranted.