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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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Times Talk

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Apr. 17


Expocenter Eurasia at 13 Ulitsa Kapitan Voronin is the sight of Goods on the Way, a five-day event starting today showcasing the latest in the industrial products industry. Bags, backpacks, swimsuits and much, much more will be available to attendees hoping to update not only their style but their accessories for the upcoming summer.


Friday, Apr. 18


Teachers and students alike shouldn’t miss the opportunity to establish lasting contacts with Russian and foreign institutions during the 21st Education and Career Fair at LenExpo, beginning today and finishing tomorrow. Learn more about education in Russia and connect with your fellow scholars.


The Tromso International Film Festival, Norway’s largest, brings a short festival to St. Petersburg for one day only during Scandinavian Oddities, starting at 7 p.m. today at Rodina Cinema Center. Tickets for the event are 100 rubles ($2.80).


Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianity’s holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti — Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the desert’s most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDA’s Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBA’s Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.