by: Victor Boesen
They're Beginning To Listen
Paul Caubin, vice-president of the Krick organization, took the call. It came from a farmer in southwest Louisiana who remembered Krick's work in those parts during the fifties, including filling the reservoirs for the city of Shreveport and who, himself, had remained a client until five years before.
"We haven't had any rain around here for a month," the caller said plaintively. "If we don't get some real soon, there go our cotton and soybeans. Do you think you could help us?" "It's a little late, but we'll see what we can do," Caubin answered.
"We're having a meeting tonight to decide what to do. How soon could you get down here and get working?"
In less than twenty-four hours Caubin himself was on the scene, taking personal charge for an old client. In a short time the cloud-seeding generators were shipped in by air and placed about the hills and fields, ready to start spouting silver iodide crystals into the reluctant sky.
The Louisiana project was no sooner underway than there came a call from a group of wheat farmers in Alberta, Canada, who were outside the area where cloud-seeding experiments were being conducted by the provincial government. Krick had worked with them before, from 1956 to 1968, with well remembered results. The rainfall increased markedly, and the hail, scourge of their crops for as as long as any could remember, decreased by about 70 percent.
By the growers' own computations, the benefits added up to a gain of between $4000 and I_ more income per section than in any other area of Alberta.
"We want you back," Jim Bishop, head of the Alberta Weather Modification Co-op, said to Krick.
With seeding projects going in Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana and Oklahoma (as of 1977 Krick held all current permits for cloud-seeding in the Sooner State), he was about out of generators, but he was able to accommodate his old friends in Canada.
At about the same time, some farmers in south central Minnesota asked him to turn off his generators temporarily. The rains had brought them the prospect of the best corn crop in years, and they needed a few sunny days to get the hay in.
"It does seem that we have effectively increased much needed rainfall," gratefully wrote Pat DuBois, President of Central Minnesota Weather, Inc., at Sauk Centre.
For any location where seeding is to be done, the generator network is first established on a map, according to the prevailing weather patterns of the region. The generators may be spaced fifty or sixty miles from the target area. For a project for Menomenee County, Michigan, for example, the generators are spotted primarily over in Wisconsin.
They are maintained and turned on and off by people hired locally-service station operators, farmers, high school boys-one man for each generator. The tenders are directed by controllers in Palm Springs, kept abreast of shifting weather behavior in the area by 1200-word-a-minute teletype connected to the government's facilities at Suitland, Maryland, clearinghouse for weather throughout the world.
"We only have a half dozen key men, but in a way we have thousands of people keyed to our operations," Krick said, "because every weather observer in every country on earth is really working with us. We get the information over all the government teletype circuits, the facsimile circuits, the satellite data-everything we need. That's the one thing the Weather Bureau has that we appreciate and is superior-the observation, collection, and dissemination of information."
Current winds, temperature, and humidity readings are used by the controllers to determine what's happening to the silver iodide as the plumes from each generator stream upward, including how fast it's rising. It's a precision operation all the way.
"Critics say they don't know where the stuff's going," Krick said exasperatedly. "Well, they don't-but we do!"
The controller is frequently George Orlich, a onetime Air Force meteorologist, who was with Krick in London on D-Day. As Orlich telephones the operators around the country and Canada to tell them when to turn their generators on or off as the case may be, and for how long, he identifies himself by code, so that the operators can be sure they're talking to him. Probably, however, they know his voice, for the chances are he is the man who placed the generators and hired them. But the code identification takes care of those fun-loving fellows who will call an operator and say, "Turn on your generator."
As a further precaution, a monitor tours the network of generators at every project, seeing to it that the operators are on the job and the equipment maintained.
The chief work of the day at Krick's headquarters is long-range forecasting, the organization's specialty. An oil company with heating oil to sell wants to know what the temperatures are going to be in all the eastern states each month from November to April. Another oil firm with tankers at sea asks about the weather outlook for the next seven days each Friday during the hurricane season - or every three hours if there is a hurricane in the making.
A farmer with 1000 acres ready for planting in the Colorado River valley needs to know, no later than tomorrow, if there is going to be any frost before December 1. If so, he'll plant maize. If not, it will be cotton, which pays more.
A utility company in the East wants Krick's weather projections for years in the future-for 1981 and 1982. This will help them decide what capital investment is necessary to meet the power loads they may be faced with by that time.
A company that builds oil refineries, barging giant modules to Alaska to put up a $700 million refinery, wants the sea and swell forecasts from Seattle to Alaska to insure that they didn't get swamped by high seas at the piers as they unloaded. This was what Krick had done for General Patton during the war. Not a module was lost.
Cattle feeders ask if the commodity market is going up or down, so they'll know the best time to stock up on feed. A broker writes in wanting to know about the wheat harvest in Texas, or the cotton crop in the Delta-how many bushels per acre, whether above or below last year, and how- much above or below the historical average. A cotton grower asks how it looks for the competition in California, the Delta, eastern Arizona-in distant Turkey.
From overseas a fruit shipper in Greece, wondering whether to ship in heated or unheated cars, asks what the temperatures are going to be en route to-say-Bulgaria and Poland next winter. An umbrella manufacturer in West Germany wants the rain forecast for all next year for the whole of Europe. How much rain is there going to be where and when? He can then estimate how many umbrellas to make and know where to send them.
Southern Spain, where Krick worked in the fifties, is heard from with a request from vegetable and citrus growers for the rainfall and temperature figures for each month of the coming year. They raise crops all year, but there is frost to worry about. There are less weighty queries. A man phoned from Buffalo, New York, asking what kind of day it was going to be for his daughter's wedding. "A friend of mine got forecasts from you for both his daughters' weddings," he explained.
As the questions come in regarding the most asked about topic in the world-the weather-Krick continues to improve his resources for answering them. "We are preparing to update our data base and extend our projections out into the twenty-first century," he says, referring to the data bank which currently enables them to make detailed, day-to-day forecasts for much of the Northern Hemisphere through 1985. . "Then we can give water management people here in the West a detailed and complete picture year to year of what the water resources will be for a twenty-year interval," he said. "This will allow them to plan and operate water projects much more effectively than anything that's been possible in the past."
The first step is the forecast. "This is fundamental to anything that eventually is done to modify the weather on a regional basis," Krick explained. "If you know what the upcoming weather regime is going to be, you set your priorities to take maximum advantage of what's coming, handling flood control properly in excess rainfall years and storage properly in the dry years."
If you ask Krick, there was no excuse for the water shortage in California in 1977, despite the state's worst drought in history, with water rationed and reservoirs getting so low by midsummer that soon there wouldn't be enough "head" to turn the generators of the power companies.
The Golden State's water famine could have been prevented, Krick declared, by seeding all river basins along the Sierras and the Upper Colorado River Basin to increase the snowpack, as he wanted to do when he moved to Denver in 1951, at the invitation of Governor Dan Thornton and the Denver Water Board. Nothing came of the plan because Congress failed to pass legislation, introduced by Senator Dominick, that would have provided money for the project.
"The annual flow of the Colorado could be increased by at least two million acre-feet a year," Krick maintained flatly. "Stored at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in surplus years, this would help meet any contingency during droughts such as that now being experienced in California. Thus, there is no excuse in 1977 for water curtailment in the state." Seeding the Columbia River Basin when appropriate would also alleviate power shortages in California. Even for day to day operations, seeding to increase rain or snow must be done in advance, Krick stressed. "The whole air stream ahead of the weather front-maybe hundreds of cubic miles-is infused with silver iodide crystals, ready to go to work when the front arrives."
It's no good waiting until a likely looking cloud comes along and then rushing aloft with an airplane and squirting it with silver iodide from wing mounts. "Cloud-chasing," Krick scornfully calls it-and "primitive," tried and discarded as ineffective for broadscale work by him and his associates a generation ago.
At best, this frenetic procedure may bring down 5 or 10 percent more water than would have fallen on its own. Or it may stop rain altogether from overseeding.
By the use of ground generators, in contrast to aircraft, Krick routinely doubles a snowfall and increases the rain from an individual storm by several hundred percent-up to 50 percent of historical averages for the year, he maintains.
Yet the outfit with the airplane, still favored by the government after thirty years of experimentation, often wins the competition with Krick for a seeding project. "Guys with planes have radar and sophisticated equipment of all kinds. All we have is just these little boxes sitting around controlled from our weather central in Palm Springs. You don't see or hear anything-no whistles, no rockets shooting off-nothing. We lost three jobs that way this year."
The man responsible for keeping the day by day prognostic charts, or weather maps of the future, about five years out in front, is Newton Stone, who came to Krick as a student in the old CalTech days and stayed on to become a professor. Stone first visited MIT with the idea of attending, but decided to go to CalTech out of curiosity after the MIT people spoke belittlingly of Krick and his ideas.
To arrive at his product. Stone juggles a bewildering montage of maps, charts and computerized esoterica, so complex that a new man needs at least a year and a half of concentrated study even to attempt the work under supervision. Moreoyer, he must be a meteorologist to begin with-a forecaster who agrees that the atmosphere is all one piece, functioning as such. Only about one in fifty applicants qualifies to work for Krick.
"We are a small group of dedicated, determined scientists and engineers who had an idea forty years ago which we felt it was important to develop for society," Krick said. "We were encouraged by Robert Millikan and we stayed together, never departing from our objective. The key to our success is being closely knit, knowing what we wanted, and sticking with it."
The secrets of the methods and techniques they worked out through the years-and continue to refine-Krick selectively shares with other private forecasters, so that, as he says, "they can function effectively. Maybe among us all we can counteract the various advisory groups we have had to contend with over the years."
Additionally, Krick is augmenting the old guard with new men whom he personally plans to train. "I'm going to take them right from scratch and put them through our methods," he said. "I'll make them draw prognostic charts and draw wave form analysis and all the rest of it."
The schoolroom will be the spacious marble-floored living room of Krick's Moorish style mansion at the upper end of Palm Springs, under the 10,000-foot peak of Mount San Jacinto. "We'll have a slide projector and screen right here-after working hours. They'll go through this just like a student and I'll tell them you're not earning your salt until you know our method and we're all on the same wavelength."
Expanding his staff may be timely for Krick, "I've been talking for twenty years," he complained one day in 1977 as the California drought was hurting more and more, "but nobody listens."
Not long afterward, a state water official discovered that of the five forecasts the state had paid for, including that of the former long-range expert for the Weather Bureau, Krick's was the only one that hit the mark: 1976-77 was going to be the driest year on record. The man from the state who revealed Krick's bull's-eye prediction was none other than Don Robie, director of California's Department of Water Resources, who told about it at a meeting of the California Water Commission. The story made page 1 of the Sacramento Bee on July 6, 1977.
Bureaucracy seemed finally to be bending an ear toward lrving Krick. At least that was the way it looked in California, where stream-flows were down to a trickle, reservoirs were drying up, and the loss to farmers and cattlemen alone, officials estimated, stood at $1 billion.
In Washington, though, action followed more nostalgic lines. Hearings were scheduled to begin on legislation calling for research to find out how to forecast the weather. The outlay this time: around $150 million.