Photo via flickr by ms4jah
The Russian government has used rain prevention methods since Soviet times, seeding clouds for major celebrations three times a year—Victory Day, City Day and, more recently, Russia Day.
Alexander Akimenkov has seeded clouds over Moscow on important state holidays for many years. He says the Russians use two different methods to try to drive the rain away.
“Either there’s a special machine that spits out silver iodide, dry ice or cement into the clouds, or a hatch opens and a guy with a shovel seeds the clouds manually,” he explains.
“As soon as the chemicals touch the cloud, a hole appears. It becomes bigger and bigger, and it either rains right there and then or, if the clouds aren’t very dense, they disperse without any precipitation.”
There are also private companies that for some $6,000 per hour say they can guarantee sunshine on your wedding day—or for any other private party. Many ecologists agree that these techniques, also used in many other countries for irrigation purposes, do not pose much of a threat to the environment or people’s health, as the period of active influence on the clouds is very short.
But when Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov suggested the technique could shift the winter snow outside the capital—and therefore save more than $10m in snow-clearing costs—many felt the city authorities were going a bit too far. Even if the idea might appeal to Moscow drivers, tired of constant traffic jams—especially bad in snowy conditions—it has stirred concerns among local ecologists.
“Millions of tonnes of snow diverted from Moscow will create chaos in the areas where it is forced to fall and might even lead to the collapse of bridges and roofs,” said Alexei Yablokov, one of Russia’s leading environmentalists, who was ecological adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin. “Besides, a lack of snow in Moscow would cause many problems in the capital itself,” he said.
“Why do we need snow in Moscow? Snow on the ground helps the roots of trees to survive during severe frosts. If there’s no snow, lots of vegetation—trees, bushes—will die. Snow also cleans the atmosphere very effectively. If there’s nothing to clean the Moscow atmosphere, many people will die—there will be tens or even hundreds of additional deaths,” explains Mr Yablokov.
The idea didn’t come to the Moscow mayor from nowhere, it is based on facts. “In the early 1980s, back in the Soviet period, there was a special service to limit snowfall over Moscow. It stopped working during perestroika [Gorbachev's reforms], when money became scarce. Some eight to 10 planes had to find clouds with the most precipitation and spray them with crystallizing chemicals. Not all water vapor in the atmosphere turns to precipitation, and for the snow to fall, water vapor should concentrate on ice crystals first. So we were making snow fall before it reached Moscow and this work reduced the amount of snow in the capital by 20, 30 and sometimes 40%.”
Regardless of the Moscow authorities’ final decision on snow cloud seeding, Russia remains one of the few nations where weather control is more than using anti-hail cannons and battling droughts.
So if you want to visit Moscow and don’t fancy rain, go there on one of the three precipitation-free holidays.
And if you want to ensure your wedding day is dry—it might just be possible to make it happen.