The weather can be a wonderful or an awful addition to our everyday life. Imagine what we could do by controlling it, guaranteeing a white Christmas every year, keeping all the bank holidays bright and sunny, causing it to rain on the day a movie premiers to ensure people flock to the cinemas. But if we could control it, could we use it as a weapon?
Sound like crazy far-fetched science-fiction technology that is years from becoming reality? Think again. Cloud seeding, altering the amount or type of precipitation to fall from clouds, was used in the run up to the Bejing Olympics. A rain-free opening and closing ceremony was ensured by causing large amounts of precipitation in the clouds near to the city, causing all the rain to fall elsewhere. China also laid claim to cloud seeding for their successful snowfall during a record long drought.
Rain occurs when water vapour cools and condenses around dust or other particles in the air, called condensation nuclei. This is what cloud seeding aims to mimic. Cloud seeding is the process of firing chemicals into the clouds, either firing rockets from the ground or dispersing chemicals from planes, that can act as these condensation nuclei and therefore make rainfall more likely and increase the amount of rain that falls. The most commonly used chemicals are Silver Iodide and dry ice.
However, the effectiveness of cloud seeding is actually disputed. Although it appears effective, there isn't a way of definitively testing whether or not the rain that follows would have fallen anyway. A US report stated that it only had a 30% or less chance of success.
Despite this, several countries still use cloud seeding technologies for various reasons. China uses it to encourage rainfall, the US uses it to decrease sizes of hailstones in thunderstorms and disperse fog around airports and Germany use it to protect agricultural areas.
Application to warfare
It has already been documented that the US have used cloud seeding in the Vietnam war in Operation Popeye, effectively extending the monsoon season in order to block enemy supply routes in 1967. Following this there was an international convention in Geneva in which a treaty was drawn up prohibiting ‘military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects.’
Furthermore there are recent claims that the CIA are investigating weather warfare as they were a sponsor in a recently released US National Academy of Sciences report on climate intervention and reportedly asked a climate scientist “If another country were trying to control our climate, would we be able to detect it?” (to which the scientist replied that yes, we could). However, global warming is seen as a national security issue and there is no evidence that the CIA is investigating climate intervention technologies for any other reason.
In conclusion, altering the weather by cloud seeding seems to be effective and is used in several countries in the world. However, there is no definitive way of telling whether or not it is effective as the weather is very complex and we don't fully understand it. An international treaty stands preventing military use of manipulating weather, and for good reason. Tampering with the climate of another country could cause catastrophic damage to the entire population of innocent civilians living there if successful. But let us not forget how unpredictable and unreliable the technology is, as Vladimir Putin deployed air force jets to seed incoming clouds to clear the skies for the July 2006 G8 summit, over which it rained anyway.