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Cloudbusting Means It Never Rains ... Or It Pours

Published: April 1, 2003 (Issue # 856)



  • The Geophysics Observatory's Okunev.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

It's hardly surprising that most self-respecting St. Petersburg residents treasure their umbrellas so highly, as the city's climate has been a problem since its foundation almost 300 years ago. The main problem is precipitation: It rains in fall, drizzles in spring, snows in winter, and not even a sunny summer day is immune from a torrential downpour.

Sometimes, however, the clouds can hold off for weeks. During the fortnight of the Goodwill Games in summer 1994, for example, the sun miraculously shone all the time - a rather weird, dim light, as though through some fog or shroud. And the first drop of rain from a thunderstorm hit the ground just a minute after the closing ceremony.

"Yes, we worked hard at that time," said Sergei Okunev of the St. Petersburg Geophysics Observatory, one of Russia's top experts on the practicalities of cloud-seeding technology, or cloudbusting.

During the Goodwill Games, Okunev said, specially equipped airplanes were kept busy making sure it didn't rain by seeding the clouds with certain chemical reagents that either induce or inhibit precipitation - in other words, to make it rain sooner or later.

However, he said, cloudbusting is a far cry from the stereotypical image of North American native chiefs banging on wardrums and hollering at the sky. Today's cloudbusters use various chemical reagents, such as iodized silver, liquid nitrogen and solid carbonic acid, either individually or in combinations.

"It needs really experienced meteorological experts," Okunyev said. "They have to be able to diagnose the type of cloud, its distance from the desired or undesired location, and how much reagent is needed to get the necessary effect."

Attempting to control the weather is not a new phenomenon here - Soviet scientists began investigating ways to influence events in the 1930s, following an order by Joseph Stalin. The researchers tackled questions including regulating rainfall, warding off hail, dispersing fog and preventing avalanches.

"There were quite a number of areas in which those technologies were in high demand," said Viktor Petrov, deputy head of Atmosphere Technologies Agency ATTECH in Moscow, naming "agriculture, aviation, traffic, hydro-electric power, forestry and city life."

Even with dozens of scientists at meteorological laboratories all across what was then the Soviet Union, it took years to accumulate the necessary know-how to, for example, disperse hail-bearing clouds threatening the entire grape harvest in Moldova and Georgia, redirect rainclouds to drought-hit agricultural areas, or disperse fog from around airports or large road junctions.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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