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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, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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