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Cloud Seeding During a Rare California Storm

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When most pilots are wondering if they ought to stay in the hangar, Jacob Mitchem is getting ready to take-off.

“That’s exactly right,” Mitchem laughed. “I haven’t flown on a nice day in months.”

Mitchem is one of a crew of cloud seeders, working to wring every drop of water out of the storm systems moving through our area. They do it by flying through those storms themselves, and lighting special flares.

“These put out silver iodide,” Micthem said, showing a flare about two feet long that’s attached to his plane’s wing and wired to ignite from a button in the cockpit.

“That moisture just kind of grabs onto that particle, and falls out as a snow flake,” he explained.

In a drought, every drop counts; 2-4% more snowflakes fall out of each seeded cloud.

“We’ve been going up on stuff that, before, it was kind of iffy. And now they’re saying, ‘go on it. Try to get as much as you can,’” Mitchem said, referring to changes in how they fly this season.

The team that Mitchem flies with will be working marathon shifts this weekend, trying to increase snowpack in the Sierra. They are contracted by SMUD and the Desert Research Institute, and fly out of McClellan in Sacramento.

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