As India Battles Monsoon Crisis, Meet Scientists Who Are Making It Rain

In the drought-hit regions of Marthwada and Vidharbha clouds are pregnant with moisture but lack the ability to rain, it is here that creation of artificial rain help.

Two planes have been hired for the experiment, which is being conducted in Maharashtra


The monsoon is a whimsical beast, on most occasions it rains but sometimes it does not despite rain bearing clouds being in the sky. So can creation of artificial rain help? This is a controversial technology and is not fully understood. The Ministry of Earth Sciences has launched a massive experiment in Maharashtra to understand the business of cloud seeding. NDTV flew in the special small plane assessing the science of creating artificial rain. Till date, this year's monsoon has been below par for the entire country.

In the drought-hit regions of Marthwada and Vidharbha clouds are pregnant with moisture but lack the ability to rain, it is here that creation of artificial rain help. Scientists are working hard to decipher under what conditions could cloud seeding be conducted.

Thara Prabhakaran, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune tells NDTV, "This experiment is about the science of seeding clouds, after seeding clouds whether it rains or not is a very controversial subject. So we need to have evidence for this and we need to know how much rain it can make and under what conditions."

She adds, "So there needs to be certain guidelines and our clouds are quite special like the monsoon clouds where we want to look at the warm part of the cloud and we are going to target such clouds and try to investigate whether cloud seeding works."

Two special planes have been hired for the job. While, one will seed the clouds with a special formulation of benign chemicals like calcium and potassium chloride, the second plane is a flying laboratory which will analyse the outcome of the experiment.

Experts say once the right cloud is seeded in the optimal conditions then it will start raining in 15 minutes. But identifying the right clouds is a difficult task.

States like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh spend crores of rupees on cloud seeding but the outcomes are not always clear. "Artificially seeded rain does not taste, smell or look any different from natural rain, hence, separating fact from fiction, whether the cloud seeding effort has been successful or not is very hard to assess' says M Rajeevan, monsoon specialist and Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences. 

He adds that this mega and complex experiment will try to establish if cloud seeding works in Indian monsoon conditions since the monsoon clouds are typically warm.  

In temperate latitudes cloud seeding seems to work since the cloud temperatures are much cooler, says Mr Rajeevan. 

Most people recall how China attempted to modify weather during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to make sure it does not rain during the opening and closing ceremonies, but not everybody is convinced that it actually worked.

So what is cloud seeding and is it cost effective? Many times rain bearing clouds lack particles on which rain drops adhere. Through cloud seeding special particles are artificially injected into monsoon clouds. Each operational cloud seeding flight costs about Rs 10 lakhs. 

In the next two years the Centre will spend about Rs 100 crore to develop a standard operating protocol for cloud seeding and try to settle the efficacy of this expensive technology. 

The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune that is conducting this experiment has chosen a site over Solapur to conduct this complex experiment. A huge set of specially automated rain gauges have been placed to assess the results of cloud seeding and a special weather radar has been installed to aid the experiment.

Flying three thousand meters above the ground in this very special plane which is equipped to do studies on artificial rain and cloud seeding.