Cloud seeders try new way to boost snowfall in Colorado River basin

Liquid propane mchine set up on Grand Mesa

The future of snowmaking is on Grand Mesa, in the form of the latest in high-tech, cloud-seeding equipment.

On Oct. 29, a remote-controlled liquid propane dispenser and weather station was positioned around 8,000 feet on the mesa, off Lands End Road on the Somerville Ranch.

Traditional cloud-seeding machines release the chemical compound silver iodide into the air. The new liquid-propane machine has been shown in tests, conducted in Utah during recent winters, to work better in warmer temperatures than the silver-iodide machines.

“It is very interesting, very new, exciting technology,” said Joe Busto, weather modification program coordinator for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The new machine is the result of the seven-state Colorado River Basin Agreement. The states are paying into the program, attempting to increase snowpack and flows in the Colorado River, Busto said.

Liquid propane, supplied from a 55-gallon tank and cooled to minus-80 degrees Celsius — minus-112 Fahrenheit) — is injected into storm clouds to form ice crystals. Unlike silver iodide, which needs to waft into clouds from a distance, the liquid propane dispenser must be closer to the mountains because it starts forming ice crystals immediately, said Arlen Huggins, a research scientist at Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.

From his Reno office, on the western edge of the Black Rock Desert, Huggins uses the Internet to monitor the remote-controlled propane cloud seeder, as well as two traditional silver-iodide machines placed last year.

“It’s got an IP address,” Huggins said. “It is pretty simple to use, compared to the silver iodide generator. We just go into the data logger, via the digital cellular modem, and then there is a program we use to give it the on/off command.”

The propane machine has been turned on once this fall.

“This is kind of an experiment for this year,” Huggins said.

The Water Enhancement Authority oversees cloud-seeding operations in the 869-square-mile Grand Mesa Target Area. It includes the Collbran, Fruitland Mesa and Crawford water conservancy districts, as well as the Grand Mesa Pool, which includes the city of Grand Junction. The 15 other machines in the target area use silver iodide.


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