New research projects seeks to unlock science of clouds

CU Boulder is participating in a new cloud-seeding project that studies the effects the process has in nature. Cloud-seeding is a process in which substances such as iodine or dry ice are inserted into clouds.

The project, Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds — the Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE), is a joint effort by CU, the University of Wyoming and the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.

“The goal is to determine if cloud-seeding increases precipitation,” said Katja Friedrich, assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and head of SNOWIE’s research team at CU.

Friedrich explained that in a lab environment cloud-seeding has been proven to work, but due to the chaotic nature of weather systems, it is difficult to tell if it is as effective in the atmosphere.

“We know that it works, but we don’t really know if it is effective in a cloud, where there’s so much more going on,” she said.

The researchers are working with Idaho Power, a company that has been experimenting with cloud-seeding for many years. They are also receiving funding from the National Science Foundation.

“We have two mobile scanning radars on top of mountaintops and I have students that are going up and down and operating the radars,” Friedrich said of what CU’s role is in the project. “We also have a research aircraft we use to measure the amount of liquids in the clouds and we have other instruments that we use to measure things like precipitation and temperature.”

Friedrich said there are graduate students involved in the planning and the implementation of the project and there are some undergraduates involved in the field experiments as well. Overall, there are six students from CU Boulder participating.

“Cloud-seeding has been going on for 50 or 60 years; the problem is that we don’t know how clouds work without seeding,” Friedrich said. “Now we have the capability to actually model these cases in simulations; we can simulate these clouds with seeding and we can simulate them without cloud-seeding. What we are trying to do is to get a really nice data set so we can validate these models.”

SNOWIE is scheduled for three years, and depending on the findings could be a new development in the prevention of drought, a pervasive issue in the American West.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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