Stories from the field; yesterday’s clouds

While waiting for the next big thing, that big Cal storm on the 12th, one  that buzzes AZ with a chance of rain a day or two later, but one that will certainly dredge up dust here (you might say that an occurrence of dust is “in the bag” with it, as it should be with this one), I will occasionally devolve into a “Stories from the Field” essay.  These will involve strange, humorous, or interesting things that happened in field projects.  So, here we go.  You may or may not be too interested in these.  If not, skip to next section about clouds well below here.

In 1972, I was loaned out in one summer from my main job in Durango, CO, one with a randomized cloud seeding experiment.  I worked for a State of South Dakota cloud seeding project.  That SD project, operating from May through August, was run under the aegis of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

As a baseball player, one that continued playing long after his years of HS and JC ball, I played ball games there in Mitchell, SD, where I was stationed at a radar.  I played for the newly formed, Commercial Bank baseball team.   When the forecast was for no threatening weather near Mitchell,  I was able to leave the radar and join my team for a game. It was the best of all possible scenarios since the games were likely to be rained out when I had to work at the radar.

Threatening weather might require launching one or more of our four Piper Twin Commanches, ones loaded with cloud seeding flares, at our Mitchell Airport site to go up and do some seeding.   I was one of the several “radar meteorologists” scattered around the State that year that were charged with launching and directing aircraft around Cumulonimbus clouds that were deemed targets for seeding.   Never mind what that was right now; I haven’t finished my baseball story…

One late afternoon, I was playing for the Commerical Bank team against the Woonsocket, SD, team (I did NOT make that town name up!)  The “pretty good” Rich Linke was pitching for Woonsocket.  It was a good, well-played game; close right to the end.

However, the forecast for “no weather” that afternoon of the game was going bad.  I did not have a cell phone yet in 1972, and there was no way to reach me in Woonsocket where I was catching for that Mitchell team that afternoon.

Instead, one of our pilots, who also had a sense of humor,  had an innovative thought:  He (Bud Youngren) would buzz the diamond at tree top level to let me know our cloud seeding planes had been launched to go out to some hail storm farther west.

So, unbeknownst (is that still a word?) to anyone, and with a Woonsocket runner on third in the bottom of the 8th inning, and the game tied at 2-2, our Twin Commanche ROARS over the field at tree top level!  You could see the rivets on that plane!

It was VERY exciting!  Stunning!  Jaw dropping!  An incredible sight!  Everyone was amazed!

The punchline.  We lost the game, 3-2.

The Woonsocket runner on third base, taking note of the distraction caused by the treetop buzz and remaining calm himself apparently, scored what proved to be the winning run in the bottom of the 8th as we all looked to the sky marveling at what had just happened!

But I knew what it meant by the type of aircraft going overhead.  I had to leave the game immediately to go back to the Mitchell radar I manned.


That year, 1972, of the statewide cloud seeding project, was also the year of the devastating Rapid City flash flood that June in which up to 14 inches of rain fell in a six hour period or so.   More than 220 people were killed in the ensuing flood.  Up in an aircraft seeding that storm with salt (called “hygroscopic seeding”) was a School of Mines scientist, Kumud B., a genial, gentle man always with a smile.  Kumud, who left the SD School of Mines later,  was my officemate in a lab at the University of Washington’s Cloud and Aerosol Group for many years when I joined that group in 1976.

BTW, that type of cloud seeding, “hygroscopic”, was absolved of having any measurable effect on that devastating flash flood in the bitter lawsuits that followed1.  But with such a gentle man, we practiced a form of gallows humor, “Man, I can’t believe how many people you killed!”  Only with someone you, in a sense, love, can you tease like that.

However, it was an awful “joke” in retronspect, something I am guilty of from time to time, but Kumud always smiled at it.  In truth, the type of seeding he was doing would NEVER have had much if any effect on such a potent storm that Nature had thrown together that day; it was organized by a potent upper level feature combined with strong, moist winds from the SE over the whole State that day, elements far beyond the control of humans or seeding.  However, a seeding plane (not mine!) should never have been near it;  it had been kind of a forecast bust in itself by the lead Rapid City forecaster that day.

Below, in memoriam, Kumud B., who killed all those people in 1972. (Hey, I didn’t say I wouldn’t stop kidding him. I am sure he is smiling upward from wherever he is.  “I loved you, man!”)



Yesterday’s clouds

Hmmm, kind of a sidelight now after all the above.   All high clouds yesterday, Cirrocumulus (Cc) once in a while, Cirrostratus fibratus (Cs fib) at one time, and some distant lenticular clouds, Ac or Cc ones.  Too far away to tell.  Here are a couple of shots.  In general, these kinds of clouds just tell you that there is widespread lifting going on as when a “trough” approaches; ahead of a trough (to the east) the air tends to rise gradually.  If the layer (s) being lifted are patchy in moisture, or the lifting is uneven or both, you get patchy clouds.  Does precip necessarily follow?  Almost always in Seattle in a few hours, but here, nah.

A near perfect example of Cirrostratus fibratus (internal structure indicated in a sheet). Smooth cloud, smooth flying in it.
A delicate, but VERY cold (<-35 C) Cirrocumulus mutating into Cirrus, left to far right in photo.

















1It is often the case that when people or property are injured/damaged in cloud seeding operations, that the purveyors of cloud seeding claim it had little to do with that damage or the injuries and deaths.  It is only when there is no damage or deaths that cloud seeding is effective. (hahaha, a little sarcasm there.)