Can the weather really be controlled? Here's what a professional has to say. Sometimes a movie's premise is so incredible that you have a hard time thinking it could be true.
One such movie is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was a surprise box office success in 2009, which is now available to watch on Netflix. The animated sci-fi movie follows inventor Flint Lockwood's tampering adventures after his food-water-turning device starts raining hamburgers and yes meatballs from the sky.
Adapted from a well-known children's novel, this sci-fi idea has little to no credibility. Because even hamburgers falling from the sky fall.
However, deep in the clouds of the movie there turned out to be a real scientific idea: weather change, better known as cloud seeding. Yes that's true; People can change the mood, but not in the same way as the hero of the movie, of course.
He spoke with Robert (Bob) Rauber, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, more about the crazy meteorological concepts implied by the weird animated sci-fi movie. Unfortunately, no matter how advanced the science is, food will not fall from the sky.
“If we're there and I notice the meatballs are coming, I'll let you know,” Rauber says playfully.
CAN AIR REALLY BE CONTROLLED?
There is a middle ground between yes and no to this question. “Well, what do you mean by controlling the weather?” I would start by asking. Rauber continues:
We can change the weather, but can we stop it? Most likely not. Scientists are not gods like Zeus; they cannot summon hurricanes or cause lightning to strike from the sky.
According to Rauber, “managing the weather means I can make it snow where I want, rain where I want, and prevent things from happening where I want.” This cannot be done.
But under certain conditions, weather change, commonly known as cloud seeding, is possible. In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Flint can't generate clouds, but he can use those that already exist to change the weather or, more specifically, to create "food mood".
Similarly, if there are clouds in the sky, real scientists can change their properties to increase precipitation, such as snow or rain. This is nothing new; Throughout the 1940s and into the Cold War, scientists were experimenting with various forms of cloud seeding. According to Rauber, it has only been recently that technology has reached the point where it allows us to precisely measure the results of cloud seeding initiatives.
But what does weather change or cloud seeding actually mean?
To change the amount of precipitation from a cloud or its characteristics, such as the size of hail, weather modification involves adding some type of substance to the cloud, usually in the form of microscopic salt particles or silver iodide.
In the next section, we'll explain how cloud seeding works.
CLOUD SEEDING STUDIES
Cloud seeding, or weather modification, is much more complex than the food weather machine in Flint's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which turns water into food, but both involve launching a device into the atmosphere that changes the properties of precipitation falling from these clouds.
Silver iodide or salt particles are often injected into clouds using planes during cloud seeding, but the two techniques have different effects.
The first technique uses salt particles to increase cloud precipitation.
Efforts to increase precipitation have been made mostly in the tropics, particularly in China and Southeast Asia. Warmer clouds are used in this type of cloud seeding, when water droplets collide and form larger droplets. These tiny water droplets combine to form larger droplets and eventually rain falls from the clouds. When salt particles disperse, clouds can produce larger droplets that coalesce more easily, resulting in heavier and faster precipitation.
But due to the difficulty of collecting this additional rain in a way that is useful to humans, Rauber does not believe this particular method of cloud seeding is very beneficial.
The main problem with this type of seeding is that although you can increase the amount of precipitation in the cloud, it actually evaporates the rain that falls on the ground. Therefore, how do you collect?
In the second type of cloud cultivation, which is usually done on snow-covered mountains, silver iodide is injected into the clouds. This is where Rauber's work on weather modification is useful. To understand this type of cloud seeding, you must be aware of two things.
First, although you may have learned that liquid water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius, this is not entirely true.
“If the water contains tiny particles that are not water, acting like tiny seeds on which ice can grow, it will freeze at that temperature,” Rauber says.
Water devoid of these particles can freeze at lower temperatures, known as supercooled water.
Second: Water particles in clouds grow extremely slowly and are more likely not to turn into raindrops falling from the sky as precipitation.
Therefore, scientists are using silver iodide cloud seeding to make these water particles more likely to fall from the sky as snow, particularly on mountains in the western United States.
If you add extra snow to more storms, you can naturally build the snowpack higher than it would be.
“Basically, what we're doing in cloud seeding is turning supercooled water into enough ice up the mountain.
And then the ice particles can grow and fall on them in the snow,” explains Rauber.
IS AIR CONTROL POSSIBLE TO PREVENT CLIMATE CHANGE?
The western United States has historically experienced a severe mega-drought due to climate change.
Could scientists use cloud seeding to protect people from drought in these water-scarce landscapes?
Rauber directly says, “The answer is no.
In essence, cloud seeding depends on clouds. We cannot create clouds from air. If there are no clouds, there is no possibility of rain, naturally or artificially.
But there is one way cloud seeding can be used to help adapt to climate change, according to Rauber. Higher temperatures are the main source of drinking water for Californians. Sierra Nevadas results in less snowpack in mountain ranges such as
Even the Sierra Nevada snowpack could disappear in the next 25 years, according to a recent study.
If cloud seeding helped expand this snowpack, the western United States could get more drinking water during dry periods.
“The point of cloud seeding in the mountains in winter is to try to build up that snowpack,” explains Rauber. “The snowpack is a natural reservoir.”
As Flint Lockwood discovers in the movie, there are limits to how much people can manipulate the weather in real life.
However, real-life weather manipulation ultimately deals with far more important issues than Meatball Chances and Cloudy.
“Nature is much more robust and powerful than anything a single person or group of people can do,” Rauber said.