Williams County farmers divided over topic of cloud seeding efforts

Cloud formation
Cloud formation(KFYR)
Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 6:18 PM CDT
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WILLIAMS COUNTY, N.D. - For more than 20 years, Williams County has partnered with the State’s Atmospheric Resource Board for cloud modification. The goal of this program is to increase rainfall and suppress hail. While this sounds like a good thing, some farmers argue they are not seeing the benefits and question its actual effectiveness.

One farmer told us he had three reasons as to why he doesn’t support the idea: other counties aren’t doing it and counties who got rid of the program haven’t gone back, residents of Williams County did not get a say in renewing the program as it is handled by the county, and the numbers in hail suppression don’t add up. These are talking points shared by Berthold farmer Roger Neshem, who led efforts to remove Ward County from the project.

“People have a legitimate concern because none of this stuff has ever been tested. There is no scientifically credible proof of any of this stuff working,” Neshem said.

Neshem held a meeting in Ray earlier this week to share his experiences in ending the program. Jesse Opsal, a local area farmer who performed seedings in 1999, spoke in favor of the program. He said watching weather models after completing missions made him a believer in the process.

“Watching that numerous times throughout the summer made me a believer. You’re not going to prevent all the hail, but you can definitely make a really good dent in preventing hail in the storm,” said Opsal.

Besides Williams County, Mountrail, McKenzie, Slope and Bowman counties also participate in cloud seeding. And these counties in North Dakota are not alone.

According to Darin Langerud, director of the Atmospheric Resource Board, areas in Texas as well as in Alberta, Canada also seed in the summer. Seven different states including Wyoming and Colorado seed in the winter to create more snowfall.

“If you add up all the area under cloud seeding programs in the western U.S., it probably encompasses a larger landmass than the state of North Dakota,” said Langerud.

Williams County Commissioners remain supportive of the project and what it can provide for the area.

“They basically estimate that it adds 5-10% rain and also has a decline of 45% of crop hail loss, so the numbers show it does do good things,” said Williams County Commission Vice Chairman Cory Hanson.

Hanson also says it’s important to know that not all storms can be seeded due to certain conditions.

Despite the supposed benefits, county participation in cloud seeding in northwestern North Dakota has waned recently. Ward and Burke Counties both ended their participation in the program in the past two years.

Regardless of opinion, officials say it’s important to be informed to prevent widespread misinformation.

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