Cloud seeding helps Colorado snowpack

RED CLIFF, Colo. - Colorado’s ski and snowboard season has been nothing short of sensational.

Resorts across the state saw this year’s snowpack nearly double that of last year's. In fact, skiing and boarding are still happening at some resorts, including A-Basin, Breckenridge and more.

For that, you can thank Mother Nature and possibly, a process called cloud seeding.

“We are just adding a little bit of extra opportunity for snowflakes to fall that would naturally be available,” said Eric Hjermstad of Western Weather Consultants, as he stood next to one of his company’s cloud seeders near Red Cliff.

Currently, cloud seeding happens in more than 100 locations in Colorado.

Recently, Hjermstad showed the FOX31 Problem Solvers how it works.

First, operators wait for the right storm, with cold temperatures and strong winds.

Then, they vaporize silver iodide to help increase the number of water droplets that become ice crystals in clouds and eventually form snowflakes.

In a perfect scenario, if a storm dumps a foot of snow, could seeding can add an extra two to three inches to what naturally falls, Hjermstad said.

Cloud seeding is no voodoo science.

In fact, a recent study called SNOWIE -- of which the University of Colorado Boulder was a part -- showed cloud seeding can increase snowfall by five to 15 percent.

The study also said the silver iodide does not harm the environment.

When all that extra snow melts, it trickles down to rivers and streams. It eventually flows to farmers, ranchers and homes as drinking water.

“Cloud seeing is becoming more important every year,” the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s Dave Kanzer told the Problem Solvers. “As climate gets dryer and warmer, we end up needing another way to increase our water supplies.”

The Conservation District, along with about 40 other partners, including Vail Ski Resort, Denver Water and seven states, spend about $1.2 million every year to cloud seed in Colorado.

“This has been a good year for cloud seeding," Kanzer said.

It’s been so good that Western Weather Consultants alone has seeded 54 storms. Last season, it seeded 33 storms.

And it could’ve done even more but didn’t because of concerns about avalanches and runoff on burn scars.

“We have snowpack suspension criteria,” Hjermstad said. “That we don’t produce such a large snowpack that there’s concern with spring runoff issues and causing additional flooding.”

Most of the seeding Western Weather Consultants do is manual, with a landowner turning on a generator and vaporizing the silver iodide.

But in extremely remote areas, including one near Camp Hale, Hjermstad can start the cloud seeding machine with his smartphone from anywhere.

“Everyone, I guess, benefits from a really good snow pack,” he said.

That’s a snowpack that’s been subsidized, so to speak, by cloud seeding.

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