RENO, NV - Once again this season, the Sierra snow pack is getting a little boost from scientists at the Desert Research Institute.
They're helping build that snow pack with one storm at a time with a system of ground-based generators at remote locations near Sierra mountain tops.
Similar efforts are underway around the world, but DRI scientists are veterans in the weather modification field, having been in the cloud-seeding business for 30 years. Methods and equipment they've developed is in use as far away as Australia.
They can't break a drought. They can't even make it snow, but when the conditions are right, these remote control generators can make it snow a little more.
"We need a storm to be moving through the area," says Frank McDonough, a research meteorologist and manager for the Desert Research Institute's Weather Modification Project.
"We need clouds to exist. We need those clouds to be in a specific temperature range and the winds to be in a certain direction.
"When those conditions are met, the staff at D-R-I's weather modification project turns these generators on. Silver iodide is pumped into the air, and a storm drops a little more snow.
"Approximate increase is about 10 percent more snowfall over the course of the entire winter," says McDonough.
So far, they've seeded three Sierra storms, including the one that dropped snow on Reno and the surrounding mountains Sunday.
That 10-percent figure may not sound like much, but it adds up in other, more impressive numbers.
So far, McDonough figures they've added between 2,000 and 25-hundred acre feet of snow-water equivalent to the local snow pack.
More water for next summer delivered at a reasonable price.
"It's on the order of $10 to $20 dollars per acre foot to conduct cloud-seeding," says McDonough. "So, it's a very cost-effective method to increase snowfall.
This season the project is aimed at the Tahoe-Truckee River and Walker River drainages. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority and the Western Regional Water Commission are funding the work.
Some may wonder about a downside to pumping silver iodide into the atmosphere. McDonough says there's no reason to worry.
"Silver iodide has been studied for 60 years," he says. "And it has no negative impact on the environment. So it doesn't hurt the environment, it works and it's relatively inexpensive. So it's a good way to add snowfall."