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Fighting Drought With Drones

Kevin Clifford
Drone America

The Desert Research Institute has successfully tested an unmanned drone flight that could help lessen the impact of drought. Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick breaks down what that means.

Cloud seeding is a practice in which tiny amounts of ice crystals and chemicals are released into the atmosphere to promote more moisture and precipitation during storms. 

Adam Watts is with the DRI and led the project team, which equipped an unmanned aircraft with a cloud seeding payload. He says drones can be an effective supplement to traditional ground and aerial efforts.

“We might find ourselves in the future able to conduct cloud seeding more economically. We might be able to do it under a broader range of conditions. We might be able to target smaller storms, and so that might increase our ability overall to get more precipitation for areas that are looking for more water to fall out of the sky.”

While drones can help, Watts says cloud seeding isn’t some magical solution.

“We can’t make it rain when it wouldn’t ordinarily rain," Watts says. "We could make it rain or snow when it might and when it’s already snowing. We can, in general, increase the amount that it’s snowing.”

Watts says this test, the first of its kind in the world, is also good for business, because it opens up more possibilities for the commercial drone industry.

“This is potentially big for Nevada’s unmanned aircraft industry," he says. "It’s another way that we may be able to use these aircraft in a really effective way as tools. We’re going to see some new discoveries from this project that I think are going to take us from a scientific standpoint, but also from an industry standpoint, to new places.”

The project was a partnership between the DRI, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the drone industry.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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