ALBERTA’S AFFAIR WITH A RAINMAKER
Irving P. Kriek says he can prevent drought and destroy hail. Alberta’s government won’t hire him and meteorologists say he’s a better showman than weatherman. But for six years, farmers near Knee Hill have been taxing themselves to pay him to protect their crops—and most of them think he’s doing it
DR. IRVINC. P. KRICK OF DENVER, Colorado, is the central figure in a controversy which has been raging in Alberta for the past seven years. Krick, who once headed the meteorology department of the California Institute of Technology and is now in business on his own as a “weather engineer,“ claims he can forecast weather months and years ahead, eliminate hail, increase rain and suppress tornadoes and hurricanes. Most meteorologists, like Professor A. H. Laycock. a University of Alberta geographer, are unimpressed by Krick’s professed ability to alter nature; Laycock has strongly advised governments and farmers against underwriting Krick’s activities. “There's little point in using unproven techniques and paying heavily for showmanship, salesmanship and statistical distortion,” he says.
But plenty of people, particularly among the men who pay most when drought or hail strikes, would challenge Laycock’s scathing disapproval of Kriek. For six years running, farmers in Alberta’s Knee Hill district have voted to tax themselves to pay for Krick’s hail-suppression program. In the latest vote, just last March, they were three-toone in favor. Bob Jackson, who farms 5.000 acres fifteen miles east of Calgary, says, “Since Dr. Kriek has been working for us we get a lot less hail. And what we do get is soft and slushy and doesn't do much harm.” 1 wrote to twenty-five farmers in districts where Kriek has worked and, of the twelve who answered, eleven shared Jackson's view.
The Kriek controversy is generating so much heat because of the importance of the weather in Alberta's economy. A rainless year turns a rich farm into a barren, parched desert. Hail is equally destructive. There have been years when hail has destroyed forty percent of the crops. In recent years, an average of $20 million worth of grain has been flattened each summer.
Kriek considers these losses are largely unnecessary. Rainfall can be increased, he says, by seeding clouds with
silver iodide crystals under the proper conditions; the same chemical agent can also temper the destructiveness of hail. Hail, explains Kriek, forms from the sudden freezing of supercooled moisture. Small particles of ice. gaining in size, are swept up through clouds. Finally they get heavy enough to come plummeting down, flattening crops, killing poultry and smashing window's. But. says Kriek, seeding clouds with silver iodide crystals creates raindrops at temperatures well below those at which hail forms. With skilled seeding then, you get cither rain or relatively harmless hail — not a destructive hailstorm.
A RAINMAKER S AFFAIR WITH THE SUN
Dr. Krick’s affair with Alberta began in 1955. For years, the province's farmers had been hearing about his amazing meteorological feats. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a doctorate in meteorology and then joined the Institute's staff. It was here that he developed his approach to weather forecasting — an approach which, he insists, makes it possible to predict the weather for periods decades in advance. He calls the system “cosmic meteorology." The earth's atmosphere, he explains, "is an elastic body that is distorted by the gravitational pull of the sun and the sun’s heating effects. These forces create pressure waves that travel in a systematic way—and if they’re systematic they're predictable, if you discover the key. A high barometric pressure at ground level indicates that the atmosphere is piled up in a big wave crest and a low barometric pressure indicates a trough.”
During World War II maps of pressure systems for every day since 1899 were prepared for the forecasting work Kriek was doing for the U. S. Army Air Forces. Since the war this mapping has been continued by the U. S. Weather Bureau. To make a forecast. Kriek feeds information trom these maps into an electronic computer. As the crests and troughs repeat he is able to determine when patterns will reappear and so, he claims, he can gauge the w'eather for days many years ahead,
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The farmers first rejected “weather engineering.99 But then, late in June 1956, hail struck again
In his thirty-day forecasts he allows himself a margin of twenty-four hours either way and claims an accuracy rate of seventy-five percent. He is proud of many of his past forecasting feats.
He predicted, with considerable accuracy, the prevailing conditions for the D-day invasion. More recently, he was consulted by the committee planning the Olympic ski trials in Squaw Valley, California. The committee wanted to choose a ten-day period between February 1 and March 15, I960, when there would be plenty of snow on the slopes but little falling. In 1958 Kriek told them to start the events on Febuary 18, that there would be heavy snow on January 8 and 9 and a further heavy two-day snow starting February 16. but that they would have good weather after that. He proved to be right.
On December 13, I960. Tyler Abell, vice-chairman of Kennedy’s Inaugural Committee, wrote Kriek and said: “In going over reports of the Inauguration of four years ago I noted you accurately predicted fair weather while everyone else was sorrowfully saying the Eisenhower luck had run out. We are at the point now where we could use some favorable publicity—winter has come to the East Coast in the form of an eight-inch snowfall, and I wonder if you could get Univac (computer system ) to render an opinion for us
On December 16 Kriek wrote back, “Our forecast for Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 20, calls for fair weather with no precipitation. However, it will be cold. Snow may accompany a storm a few days prior to January 20 but there should be time to clear the streets . . .”
On February 2 Tyler wrote to Kriek: “The parade committee acted on your report with great success. I was in charge of the floats and by planning on snow the day before was able to order provisions made for what would otherwise have been a catastrophe.” In fact seven inches of snow fell on January 19. The Inaugural Committee had 700 power shovels on hand and they succeeded in clearing the streets.
Many meteorologists have stated that the theoretical basis for Krick’s predictions is part wishful thinking and purt oversimplification. So many loosely defined factors affect weather, they say, that long-range weather forecasting is impossible. Professor R. W. I.onglcy, of the University of Alberta, did a careful study of Krick’s longrange forecasts and concluded that “they are thirty-seven percent correct — slightly better than a pure chance forecast.” This annoyed Kriek, who accused Longley of “figure-juggling and statistical gyrations.” He did his own evaluation and found that his forecasts were correct seventy-four percent of the time on temperature, seventytwo percent on precipitation.
Regardless of his detractors, Krick’s firm was strong enough to merit an invitation to address a large meeting of farmers organized by the Drumheller Agricultural Society in 1955. His representative impressed the farm listeners so much that they organized the Knee Hill Hail Suppression Association and it successfully petitioned the provincial government for an act whereby, if two thirds of the ratepayers in a municipal district voted for hail suppression, they would commit the whole municipal district and the charges would appear on tax bills. The tax. averaging close to $25 a quarter-section, was to pay for hail suppression. Any increase in rainfall would be a fringe benefit.
The districts of Knee Hill and Mountain View voted on it early in 1956 and turned it down, two to one. But on June 27 a storm left hailstones lying six inches deep over a swath six miles wide. An emergency meeting was called; Kriek was asked whether he would come in with his rigs if the seventy farmers at the meeting would agree to canvass the area for voluntary donations of about $15 per quarter-section. He agreed. That was on a Monday. By Wednesday the farmers had collected $23,()()() and by the time the silver iodide was drifting upward in mid-July they’d upped collections to $30,000.
The treatment in 1956 was on a 500square-mile area. When severe storms failed to appear farmers began to believe that maybe there was something in cloud seeding. In votes in the spring of 1957 close to seventy-five percent of the farmers in three municipalities voted in favor of taxing themselves an average of fifteen cents an acre to pay for pumping the silver iodide into the air between them and the mountains. In 1958 the vote in favor was close to eighty percent in Knee Hill and Rocky View municipal districts but Mountain View was a few votes short of the two thirds required. In 1959 Mountain View came back in. Rocky View jumped to ninety percent in favor and Knee Hill to eighty-one percent.
The price of inexperience
That was a bad year. Storms crisscrossed the farms. In the area where hail was supposed to be suppressed the Alberta Hail Insurance Board paid out twenty cents for every dollar of insurance written; it paid only a couple of cents on the dollars in the rest of the province. Said Dr. Kriek: “This hail was due primarily to an error in judgment in assigning inexperienced personnel to run the project. A number of major hailstorms were allowed to reach a mature stage before being attacked.” Kriek refunds his fee to any farmer who is completely hailed out. He made the refunds and took the responsibility for the mistakes. The farmers were shaken but many still believed he could increase rain and decrease hail; in the vote the next spring, three out of four in Knee Hill anil Rocky View were still for him and his silver iodide generators.
With the scientists and meteorologists hopelessly split on the value of Krick's work, I decided to talk to some of the customers who pay a million dollars a year for his weather forecasts and “weather modifications” and to try to find out something about other rainmaking programs. I found that official assessments, most of them made by the meteorological division of the Department of Transport, concluded that rain increase programs in farm areas in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1953 and 1954 had not increased rain and may even have decreased ii, and that in cloudseeding operations designed to increase river flow in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec the experience was similar.
I wrote to companies that had hired rain-increase services and found that some were shy of having their names associated with anything as exotic as rainmaking; some felt rainmaking programs were helpful and some didn’t know. Maurice Vezina, manager of The Laurcntian Forest Protective Association of Quebec had firm opinions. His association originally hired Kriek and since 1955 has retained a company which Kriek organized. “There is
definite proof that we are getting an increase in rainfall,” said Vezina. “There is an increase of close to forty percent over the anticipated rainfall from the storm systems that came along.”
The Abitibi Power and Paper Company and the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, both of Toronto, and the British Columbia Electric Company of Vancouver, all of whom have experimented with rain-increase programs but have discontinued them, are unable to assess the effect Df cloud seeding and won’t say that precipitation was increased.
The meteorological branch of the Department of Transport has, for three years, been conducting cloud-seeding experiments on the Ontario-Quebec border north of North Bay but hasn't come up w'ith any answers yet.
In Alberta generally, the farmers are divided in their opinion of Krick’s handiwork.
“It’s made a farm out of my land,” said Art Bates of Acme. "1 used to get hard hail and now it’s soft. If there is hail it does less harm.”
“I’ve been on this farm for thirty years and there’ve been plenty of times when I’ve replaced forty or fifty windows after a hailstorm has gone through,” said Tom Morris of Didsbury. “Before the hailsuppression started it came down hard: now a lot comes down as snow and in the last six years I haven’t replaced a window.”
“We’ve given this a fair trial and it’s a failure,” said a Balzac district farmer. “We’ve been victims of a hoax.”
If the farmers who believe in Krick’s hail-suppression program are right, then their claims for hail damage should have been lower than usual during the past few years. I went to see Glen Elder, manager and vice-chairman of the Alberta Hail Insurance Board. He showed me statistics going back to 1919. They revealed the percentage of insurance written that had to be paid back to farmers who’d suffered losses from hailstorms — the so-called "loss-torisk” ratios. During the period of Krick’s program the loss-to-risk in the areas he’d seeded was only 9.2 percent; the average in the years 1919-1955 was 12.1 percent. This indicated a twenty-five percent reduction. Still, there were two other six-year periods which were below 1956-61: in 1930-35 and 1947-52 the loss-to-risk ratios were 6.5 percent and 8.4 percent. Also, Dr. Kriek in his report had omitted 1959 because of "mis-
takes” that year which had allowed some bad storms to get through, resulting in losses of 21.1 percent. So I took three other six-year periods in which hail losses were low, dropped the worst year as he had done, and found that the hail damage in the remaining five years in each period was 3.0 percent. 5.7 percent and 6.5 percent.
From this one might conclude that seeding clouds with silver iodide is not suppressing hail at all. Certainly it is possible that Kriek has been working in a period that, for hail, was similar to 1930-35 or 1947-52. But it’s also possible that he’s been working in a period similar to 194146, 1926-31 or 1951-56 and the loss-torisk in these three periods was 15.3 percent. 16.4 percent and 17.0 percent; if this is the case, he’s reduced hail by forty to forty-five percent. And the farmers who work and live in the shadow of the storm clouds are almost unanimous in their insistence that he has sharply altered the kind and the amount of hail that falls.
A study of hail is being made in central Alberta by the Research Council of Alberta, the National Research Council, the Meteorological Services of Canada and the Stormy Weather Group of McGill University. Research has been continuing for six years. The scientists believe it is vitally important to increase understanding of hailstones and hailstorms and they hope that, from their research, a workable means of controlling hail might be devised. With one or two exceptions, they make no public statements as to the effectiveness of Krick’s silver iodide seeding: “If you criticize it you get into trouble, and if you approve it you’re unscientific and don’t use my name,” one of the scientists told me.
A farmer in the foothills of the Rockies didn’t want his name used either, but for a different reason. “I don’t care about Kriek — I’m for the research council. Whatever either of ’em do, my crops arc killed when it hails. But the research council put this barograph in my yard and I read all the air pressures every day. I can read good fishing off that thing and never miss. Give me the right combination and I drop whatever I’m doing and go fishing and 1 fill the pan with trout every time. And don’t put my name in that book or I’ll have to tell every fisherman in Canada how to catch fish.”
“You’ll find plenty of criticism and a range of opinions but few if any will say
flatly that Krick’s hail suppression isn’t effective,” Peter Hepher, associate editor of The Albertan, told me when I arrived in Calgary.
One of the reasons is that a survey of work done around the world suggests that seeding clouds with silver iodide to increase rainfall and suppress hail is not all “hocus pocus.”
Most scientists agree, with qualifications, that under some circumstances successful cloud seeding can be done. The United States’ Advisory Committee on Weather Control examined the field exhaustively and reported that the seeding of wintertype clouds in the mountainous areas in the western United States had increased precipitation an average of ten to fifteen percent “with heavy odds that this increase was not the result of natural variations in the amount of rainfall.” They failed to detect any effect in nonmountainous areas, but said this didn't mean there hadn't been any: the measurement of precipitation
changes was so difficult that they were unwilling to take a firm position. The U. S. National Science Foundation, reporting on work done under its direction at the University of Arizona, stated “the results of three years suggest that the seeding produced some important effects such as larger thunderstorms, more lightning strokes, and the initiation of precipitation clouds.”
In I960 E. G. Bowen, chief of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization at Sydney, Australia, presented a paper on five years of experiments in five different rain-increase projects in Australia. He reported increases ranging from zero to between twenty and thirty percent, and added: “One may conclude that provided the right procedure is used and the experiments are properly designed, significant increases in precipitation are possible using silver iodide as the cloudseeding agent. However, the outcome cf any one experiment cannot safely be predicted in advance, as it depends entirely on the existence of adequate amounts of supercooled cloud; success in one region does not automatically imply success in another.”
Only time can resolve the controversy in Alberta. The government doesn’t propose to put any money into the hail-suppression program or into rain increase this year. Many farmers feel strongly enough about it that they are again going to go it alone. If the loss due to hail in the test area does not rise during the next five years it will be a strong indication that Krick’s silver iodide does reduce hail. Five years should also permit a better evaluation of Krick’s ability to increase rainfall.
If he does stop hail and start rain he will face a new flood of criticism. There is the question of legal responsibility — Kriek carries public liability insurance for all of his projects — and already there is some controversy over the man’s right to interfere with God’s weather. Research meteorologists and commercial rainmakers are both accustomed to being told that, “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust,” the implication being that man should stand aside. Kriek replies with God's instruction to Adam to subdue the earth. Subduing it. Kriek argues, includes artificially increasing the rain that falls on it.
And the rain is being increased. It may be little and it may be uncertain and chancy and it may or may not be falling on the fields of southern Alberta, but the rainmaker of today is accomplishing something that was never achieved by the rai l dancers, the sorcerers or the scientists cf the past: he is actually causing some addi tional rain to fall. Ke has taken a vital step in the direction of weather-making. ★