SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - It's not science fiction--cloud seeding is happening in the skies above Santa Barbara County.
The Santa Barbara County Water Agency partners with a pilot to "seed" clouds of important reservoirs, like Lake Cachuma and the Twitchell Reservoir.
County hydrologist Matthew Scrudato says cloud seeding has increased rainfall over these reservoirs by as much as 21 percent.
Even after our wet winter, cloud seeding continues along the Central Coast. Scrudato and the Santa Barbara County Water Agency have been using and studying the effects of cloud seeding since the 1960's. They use six land-based cloud seeding sites, all high atop mountain peaks across the county.
Worldwide, cloud seeding increases rainfall by about 10-15 percent, but in Santa Barbara County, that number is much higher--21 percent.
Veteran pilot and meteorologist Jean Renoir has piloted cloud seeding planes in dozens of countries, and has a simple explanation for what he does. "It's like giving the clouds vitamins. They become that much more efficient in putting rain on the ground," he said.
These "vitamins" are silver iodide. Tiny particles are released out of flares attached to the wings precisely at the right time.
"We're looking for temperature of liquid water, updrafts, density of the clouds, movement of the clouds," said Renoir.
"What it does is it pulls the moisture out of the clouds, and gives the moisture something to latch on to," explained Scrudato.
All of the collected data has allowed researchers to conclude cloud seeding has increased rainfall over the Twitchell Reservoir by 9 percent, and more than 20 percent over Lake Cachuma.
Some claim, however, that the release of chemicals during cloud seeding is unsafe. But experts say the tiny amounts released into the atmosphere are harmless.