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Sun 9 Jan 2011 01:40 PM

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Can they make it rain?

Artificially induced rainfall would be the news of the century for the Gulf, writes Damian Reilly

Can they make it rain?
Rain, storm, umbrella
Can they make it rain?

Could readers in Al Ain in the UAE confirm that there were indeed 50 freak rainstorms complete with villa-rattling gales and cat-killing hailstones over the summer months in 2010? It is a claim being made by Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper (not the cat-killing bit), or rather a claim being made by scientists working for a firm called Weathertec who believe they can make it rain when it shouldn’t be raining, and which was repeated unquestioned in the Sunday Times last week.

If it is true, it is an amazing development, and one that will have massive ramifications for hot, dry countries who wish to improve their farming prospects in terms of growing produce. The UAE and other Gulf countries have tried for many years to find ways to grow crops on sand — “greenifying” parts of the desert while emptying natural aquifers — often with disappointing results.

Cloud seeding and other methods that can supposedly induce rainfall have long been the subject of scientific debate. For all of those who believe it is possible, there are those who think it is nonsense. The idea that mankind can control nature in this way — perhaps in any way — is a controversial one. But if the claims are true, the ramifications for Gulf countries and African countries that have to import food stuffs at vast cost are potentially enormous.

About eighteen months ago, I interviewed Peter Framingham, a leading UAE meteorologist and forecast manager at Fugro. At the time, we had just seen an astonishing amount of rainfall in the UAE, and I asked him if he thought that rumoured cloud seeding could be to blame — after all, everyone was blaming it. He was sceptical, to put it mildly. He said the rain, in the sweep of history, was not unusual — nor was the snow that had also fallen in some parts of the UAE that winter (he pointed out Wilfred Thesiger had made reference to snow in the UAE in his accounts of his travels through the country in the 1940s) — and said he did not really believe in man’s ability to make it rain.

“The theory in practice is a little bit dubious in the sense that the technology has been proved in a laboratory, but it hasn’t been proved conclusively outside. The problem is, how can you prove it had an effect? The types of clouds they have to seed in the first place are probably the type of clouds that would rain anyway. The problem is, when you seed a cloud, how can you actually tell where the rain is falling? There are no reliable mechanisms to measure it,” he said.

That said, if it really was raining heavily in Al Ain over the summer, something is going on. If it was as a result of the actions of Weathertec, it would surely represent an amazing breakthrough for science — one with the potential to change the world. Many of you might feel there is something frightening about meddling with nature, but those concerns aside, the benefits could be enormous. If it can really be done, artificially induced rainfall would be the most exciting news of this new century for the Gulf.

It could also to be the answer to the most fervent prayers of the 2022 Qatar World Cup organisers.

During the interview, Framingham also passed on some advice that those of you who like to picnic in wadis might wish to note — especially if rainfall really is being induced.  He said: “The summer rain can be very dangerous in the mountains. At the top of the mountains, where the water falls, the rock is not very porous, so the water is focused over a narrow area, and it comes down through a gully. In the wadis, where people are picnicking, they can neither see or hear these flash floods. They are in the wadis enjoying themselves, and before they know what has happened, a wall of water carrying stones and taking all before it hits them, and they can’t get out. If you’re in there, you’re dead.”

Damian Reilly is the Editor of Arabian Business.

Arabian Business digital magazine: read the latest edition online

Peter Framingham 9 years ago

I recently heard about a fellow who promises he can double your money with some magical chemicals and strange sounding words.
Weather modification is offering a similar service - something that offers the impossible but if you want to believe it there is nothing that will change your mind.

I stick by my earlier thoughts - that the weather has not changed significantly in the UAE over the last century and can not currently be changed in a measurable or scientific way.

This statement is after monitoring the weather in the UAE professionally for the past 30 years.

Peter Framingham CMet FRmetS
Chartered Meteorologist

.

Nadeera Rangika 9 years ago

Don't know what exactly happened in the UAE, but I'm for sure that artificial rain is possible.

The patent for artificial rain-making had been given to Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.