Communities suffering under extreme drought conditions could soon be helped by drones. According to meteorologist Jeff Tilley, drones could contribute to the production of billions of gallons of additional rainfall monthly through a process known as “cloud seeding”. As Tilley explained to CBS News, a cloud seed generator sends minute particles of silver iodide into storm clouds, which sparks the transformation of water vapor into rain or snow. Such a conversion process takes approximately one hour. This cloud seed generator has better success when used at higher altitudes like those in the Sierra Nevada range, according to Tilley.
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Because all land-based instruments have limits to their reach, drones can provide further, more detailed information and assistance. An original, unmanned drone built for the purposes of cloud seeding is under development by Tilley and his team at Desert Research Institute in Nevada.
Cloud seeding has been done using piloted planes for over 60 years. While they can help in the production of approximately one billion gallons of water for every 25-45 hours spent in the air, they are required to maintain an altitude above the cloud level for safety purposes. However, according to Tilley, drones are able to fly through clouds as well as stay airborne for longer periods of time, leading to more precipitation for communities deeply affected by drought.
As Tilley put it, “You can think of it as not only do I have more water to shower with, or water my plants with, or raise crops with, you’re really helping the economy from having the brakes put on it because of the amount of water that’s available.”
The Desert Research Institute is still analyzing the detailed costs involved with drone usage, but it expects that the overall expense could be half the cost of using standard airplanes, particularly because the much-smaller drones us considerably less fuel to operate. Tilley would like to see his cloud seeding drones at work, bring much-needed precipitation to drought-affected regions, by the end of the year.