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Researchers hope to bring drone for cloud seeding to Lake Tahoe

Griffin Rogers
griffin@tahoedailytribune.com
The Desert Research Institute showed off its new cloud seeding drone at Heavenly Village on Jan. 9.
Griffin Rogers / grogers@tahoedailytribune.com |

A Nevada-based research group recently acquired a cloud-seeding drone with hopes of increasing precipitation in the Tahoe/Truckee region.

The Desert Research Institute came to Heavenly Village earlier this month to show off its new unmanned aircraft, which has the ability to release silver iodide into a storm and generate additional rain or snowfall.

DRI estimates ground-based cloud seeding towers, which have been operating in the area for several years, already produce an additional 10 percent of water on average in the Lake Tahoe and Truckee regions, associate research professor Jeff Tilley said.



Fallon, Nev., and the Walker River Basin are areas being eyed for November drone testing. But Tilley said he’d also like to see drone operations in the Lake Tahoe region in the future.

“We would like to be able to supplement our ground-seeding operations in the Tahoe/Truckee basin with the drone,” he said.



DRI has been performing cloud seeding operations in the area since the 1960s, and it has been using them for the direct benefit of water resources since the mid-1980s.

With the help of a drone — a more efficient means of extracting moisture from clouds — Tilley said there is potential to produce even more water in an area that’s currently experiencing a drought.

“One of the things we want to do with the initial tests of the drone is to come up with an estimate of additional water under that methodology,” he said of combining drone and ground-based operations.

Steven Hemphill, spokesperson for Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, said the company supports efforts to bring more snow if the methods aren’t harmful to the environment.

“Anything to improve moisture, we do definitely get behind,” he said, “as long as there’s no adverse effects on the environment.”

Sierra-at-Tahoe was open and offered guests top to bottom skiing on 23 trails this past weekend. However, a lack of snow this season has led some employees to scoop buckets of snow out of the woods and cover patches on trails at times.

“We’re all in favor of getting a few more drops here,” Hemphill said.

DRI recognizes the need for additional precipitation, but the company won’t run the drone system until it’s ready, Tilley said. In other words, it will be awhile before anyone sees the drone flying near Tahoe.

“That is possible down the road,” he said, “but that’s a ways off.”


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