Category Archives: Jerusalem

Not blogcastin’ today; but an old science story “filler” from the Middle East!

Lettin’ the past few weather blogcasts about a good chance of snow here in Catalina during the Christmas season ride the old stagecoach into town.  Doesn’t seem to be any need to change it…  In the meantime this.

A science story for you, while we kill time waiting for some snow

You’ve probably read about snow in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Middle East.  I saw it snow in Jerusalem when I there for 11 winter weeks, January through the middle of March, 1986, on a self-funded cloud investigation. Its not terribly uncommon to see snow in Jerusalem, believe it or not.

I was single in 1986, so I could do stuff like that, quit my job at the University of Washington for awhile (2 years), with no need to ask a spouse, “Honey, do you mind if I quit my job today and spend the equivalent of $40,000 going to Israel to look at clouds for a couple of months, and then spend a year without income working on a publication about ’em?”

Not gonna happen.

I had just sold a house in Durango, Colorado, so had some money to waste;  I could be a “gentleman scientist” as in the old days of science before WWII and Vanevar Bush and the onset of big government funding for science, and maybe what some would call the beginning of “careerist” science, that followed WWII and the beginning of the Cold War to propel us forward.

So off I went in early January 1986 to see the clouds of Israel.

Jerusalem was often a city in the clouds during storms; it was so COLD and windy during them, unbelievably so considering what we think of there from Bible stories.  I was outside a lot, experiencing the weather and rain, and on one occasion I remember I couldn’t pull the shutter on my old Rolleicord medium format camera, my fingers were so cold.

The three wisemen/magi came in the winter, didn’t they?  They don’t seem to have enough clothes on in the Nativity scenes that I have seen, given what the weather can do in the winter there.  Below, Jerusalem in the clouds, with 20-30 mph wind, at about 40 F:

Part of the new construction of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Might have been a hospital wing. Note leaning cypress or juniper trees.


Looking down King David Blvd, Jerusalem,  during a storm.
January 12, 1986.   Looking down King David Blvd, Jerusalem, during a storm.
January 21st, sunset over the Med, from the beach fronting Tel Aviv.
January 21st, 1986:  sunset over the Med, from the beach fronting Tel Aviv.

I really loved it in Israel. The Israel national weather service (IMS, Y. L. Tokatly, Director) was great to me, letting me have a little research area in their offices after I just showed up on their doorstep, unannounced.  Later, in a display of incredible scientific idealism, when the Director learned that the key scientist and I had a falling out about the clouds of Israel after my second week there, he allowed me to continue to use their historical records and my little space in their offices, terming what happened between that researcher and myself, as “merely a scientific dispute.”

Oh, my; where has that pure idealism fled to in the global warming wars?

But I loved the clouds there in Israel the most as they rolled in off the Mediterranean, borne on the cold winds of continental Europe, then boiled upward from flat little guys that they started out as by the warm waters of the Mediterranean into big Cumulus and Cumulonimbus clouds, the latter often spewing lightning, by the time those clouds and cold air got to Israel.  It is a gigantic lake-effect situation there in the Mediterranean, the kind that is produced by the warmer waters of the Great Lakes as Arctic air traverses it, such as the storm buried folks in New York recently.  Over over the Mediterranean, the air has a chance to really warm up after leaving Europe due to its low to mid 60s late fall and wintertime water temperature.

January 15, 1986.  Cumulonimbus marches ashore north of Tel Aviv.
January 15, 1986. Cumulonimbus calvus marches ashore north of Tel Aviv.
February 9, 1986.  Skies open up near Nahariyya, in extreme northern Israel.
February 9, 1986. Skies open up near Nahariya, along the extreme northern Israeli coast near the Lebonese border.
January 12, 1986.  An epiphany moment as the first storm in daylight hours occurred during my visit.
January 12, 1986. A moment of “cloud ice” epiphany as the first storm in daylight hours occurred during my visit.  I knew with the first two hours of this storm that my hunch about those clouds was right.  BTW, showers like these can roll into Israel,  and into Lebanon for that matter, for days on end, termed “rainy spells” in that region.  Cold air troughs aloft like to “nest” in that region in the wintertime, enhancing the clouds there, and stimulating the “Cypress Low” pressure area at the surface in the eastern Med.

The short of this is, and I COULD write a book, “go long”, was that I questioned,  from afar mind you, after I plotted  balloon sounding of temperature and moisture from Lebanon and Israel when it was raining, whether the clouds being described by a leading scientist in Israel were correct. In fact, from these plots, I was rather sure they weren’t.  But it would, as I knew, be real heresy to conclude that in those days.

Of course, questioning findings goes on all the time in science. Its what makes it better.

A short paper was submitted to the J. of Applied Meteorology in 1983 reporting this discrepancy, and some other problems.  It was rejected by three of four reviewers, one being the leading scientist mentioned above. I really was of the opinion I would “get in.” so was disappointed, but not undaunted in the least! Should have taken more than ONE day, July 4th, 1983, to write it, coming into the University of Washington at 6:30 AM, I was so excited to get it off!

I knew what those balloon soundings were telling me, and so after the paper was rejected, it began to occur to me to GO to Israel and see the clouds for myself.   After all, by this time (1983) I had been punching clouds with cloud measuring instruments at the University of Washington for about seven years, and had a good idea of what was in them just from their visual (external) appearances.  And I was starting to build a list of papers on reanalyzing and commenting on cloud seeding experiments, getting some notice.

So I reasoned that even if I just looked at the clouds of Israel, I would know whether the many journal and conference reports about those Israeli clouds were in error.

Error? What would that be, you ask?  Some background, if anyone is still reading.

The clouds being described in Israel by researchers there, ones operating a cloud seeding program, were supposed to get real thick and cold before they rained. That meant the clouds weren’t very efficient and could to be seeded with a substance called silver iodide (AgI) to make it rain sooner, before they got so thick and cold.  The AgI would introduce ice, needed to start the rain process going, at higher temperatures than the natural clouds rained at, thus  seeded clouds would rain before having to be so thick and cold.

This meant that more would rain when seeded compared to not seeded clouds because not just the taller ones in Israel would rain.   More clouds raining would, of course,  add hours of rain to storms on seeded days, it was posited, and the researchers evaluating their second randomized experiment reported those very results:  seeding, on randomly drawn days, had increased the hours of rain compared to randomly drawn control days. And these increases in rain on the seeded days were statistically significant, as they had been in a first randomized experiment.

So, in not ONE but two randomized cloud seeding experiments in Israel, statistically significant results had been obtained on seeded days, and the scientists reporting these results also had what appeared to be a solid cloud foundation for having obtained more rain by seeding;  the natural clouds just had to be too thick to rain, but they fixed that by seeding with AgI.  It all made sense.

It doesn’t get better than this for scientific proof, the so-called “gold standard” of science;  statistically significant results in two randomized experiments and a solid physical reason why it happened.  Due to these attributes, these experiments in Israel were accepted as “proof” of seeding effects  by our highest scientific panels, such as the National Academy of Sciences, and every expert in the cloud seeding domain.  For a time…..

Representative of this status is a 1982 article in Science magazine;  “Cloud seeding:  One success in 35 years”  That success was the two Israeli experiments en toto.

From the outside, my trip to Israel in 1986 to investigate the clouds would have seemed ludicrous.   Why bother; too many peer-reviewed publications documenting the attributes of those clouds, and also in a number of conference papers as well.

Could they all be wrong?


The End, more or less.

Below, an “action shot”:

Yours truly atop the Riviera Hotel, Tel Aviv.
Yours truly atop the Riviera Hotel, Tel Aviv, January 1986, readying for clouds and storms to blow in from the Med.

——————————————-some final commentary that sort got out of hand after more coffee———–

1The short ending.  That answer is not in question anymore.  Did that leading researcher allow me to go to either of his two radars to see how thick the clouds were when they were raining?


So my publication on those clouds (1988, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Met. Society) had to make inferences about cloud top temperatures based on primitive balloon sounding data.  But the results in that paper,  that shallow clouds were raining and had MUCH higher cloud top temperatures than had been reported to that time, were confirmed by independent researchers, the best kind, using aircraft and modern instrumentation a few years later.

Spiking fubball now!  (Can’t seem to lose that sense of irreverence, even when serious.)

Some final, “human” notes about this chapter of science:

This same leading researcher, in 1972 (published in 1974 in Weather and Climate Modification, Wilmot Hess, Ed, Wiley-Interscience) wrote what may be the BEST, most circumspect review of his experiments, as his second experiment was underway!  It is recommended reading for anyone in this field.

So, “something” happened later on when he got his radars to monitor cloud tops and likely learned there was a problem.  And you can imagine, I was his nightmare, a smart-ass with a building publication record critical of cloud seeding coming to Israel to question his cloud reports. Ideally, no problem.  As scientists “ideally” we want to be the first to know that our results are in error.  We care only about truth.  (Right.)  Ufortunately, our humanity sometimes gets in the way.

The leader of the Israeli experiments died only a year after my visit at the age of 54, aware at that time (1987) that the paper on clouds of Israel was going to be published in the QJ (Prof. Peter Hobbs, the Director of my group,  had communicated this news to him after we got word from the QJ that year.)   So….we can speculate.

But our meetings were cordial at all times;  he was a great story teller, and there was no shouting, even when he firmly asked me to leave his office and never come back (2nd visit when I was telling him about my “findings”, which included a mention of drizzle, something his clouds were never supposed to do).

In fact, I felt bad for him, and still do, knowing the position I was putting him in, how this might end when other researchers began asking more questions about his cloud reports and eventually they would have to be overturned.   At one point, on top of the old Hebrew University of Jerusalem, during our first very cordial meeting, I said, “Maybe we can co-author something if I find anything.”  Coming from a “newby” like me, I am sure, as cordial as he was, he would have liked to have pushed me off the roof.

Some day I will post the whole technical thing on this experiment, and another one that was its mirror image in the Colorado Rockies. That future post (Cloud Seeding and the Journal Barriers to Faulty Claims:  Closing the Gaps) will be piled high with references   But this is already too much for now.