Cloudbusting In The Northern Plains
By Joel Carlinsky
An experiment is underway in Montana. It has been going on for some 20 years now, and nobody is even noticing. It was not intended as an experiment, but it is one, nevertheless, for nobody knows what the long-term results might be.
Every summer for the past 20 years, a California-based New-Age shaman named Matt Ryan has driven from his home at Mt. Shasta to Montana, towing a small trailer behind his car. On the trailer is a cloudbuster, a type of device invented by Wilhelm Reich. The cloudbuster has, as one of it´s functions, the ability to alter the weather over a considerable area.
In Montana, a group of farmers pay Matt Ryan $10,000 each summer to make rain for them. And every summer, the rain comes at his command. The farmers are satisfied with his services and he is content with the $10,000 and does not seek additional business. He has little desire for publicity.
Matt Ryan is a former member of the Bear Tribe Medicine Society, a New-Age type organization of mostly white followers of the late Sun Bear, a Chippewa medicine man who won many white converts to his New-Age version of Native American religion. Today, he works as a public-relations agent for a New-Age guru at Mt. Shasta. And every summer he travels to Montana to make rain for farmers who pay for his services.
The cloudbuster is a deceptively simple device. It is easy to construct one. The hard part is in knowing how to use it. Of the many people who have built cloudbusters and used them, most have failed miserably. Many have caused serious floods, killing many people in the process. Many others have given up, unable to obtain convincing results.
Matt Ryan is one of the very few who do know what they are doing in this field. He was one of the students of the late Jerome Eden, who taught a course in cloudbusting in Northern Idaho in the 1980s. This course, the only formally organized course ever taught on this subject, was a very good one and Jerome Eden was a consumate instructor, well qualified to teach it and exacting in his standards.
So there is nothing surprising in the fact that while most of the people who attempt cloudbusting unintentionally cause disasters, Matt Ryan has never, as far as I know, been responsible for any catastrophic weather events as side-effects of his rainmaking operations.
But there is another standard that can also be applied to cloudbusting operations, and that standard is that no operation should be done unless there is a need for it. The proper application of a cloudbuster is to bring back normal rainfall, not to increase rainfall over and above normal. Cloudbusting is intended as a form of medical practice, with the atmosphere as the patient. It is really "atmospheric medicine", not a mere form of "weather engineering", as some misguided people persist in regarding it. And using a cloudbuster to change the weather from what is normal for the area in the absence of a DOR problem, and from what is sufficient for the native, non-desert ecosystem, is malpractice.
A desert is a location that suffers from a stagnation or blockage known in the cloudbusting field as DOR, that impedes movement of moisture into the area and inhibits rainfall. If this DOR condition is temporary, it is called a drought. If it persists over years, the region is called a desert. In either case, a cloudbuster can be properly employed to remove the stagnation that is preventing the normal rains.
But the plains of Montana are not a desert region. The year-long average of rainfall is enough for the growth of a spectacular verdant carpet of native prairre grasses and other vegetation, a lush native grassland, in fact, that before the introduction of farming in the mid-19th century, supported an impressive asemblage of wildlife, including bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, and the wolves, grizzlies, Indians, and other predators who fed on them. It has been called an American Serengetti, and was the richest, most biodiverse grassland ecosystem on Earth.
The tough native vegetation, adapted to the prevailing climate by thousands of years of adaptation, is now reduced to a few scattered patches of native grass, scattered among a vast cultivated field. The native wildlife has suffered a similar decline, with many forms on the verge of extinction.
The climate of the area is not really suited for farming, and the area should never have been plowed up and turned into farms, but it is still not too late to repair the damage done by several generations of farmers and get things back to normal. Several serious proposals have been made by conservation biologists for restoration of the Great Plains, or at least a major part of the Great Plains, to their natural condition. These proposals for what is known in the field of conservation biology as Restoration Ecology, include the extirpation of non-native plants and the re-planting of native grasses and other species better adapted to the prevailing climatic conditions.
Since the native species of plants were already adapted to the prevailing climate and able to cope with the dry summers, there is really no need to change the climate merely to accommodate farmers and their introduced crops. If farming cannot be successful there without a change of climate, farming is probably not the optimum use for the Great Plains.
The Northern Great Plains is not a desert region, does not suffer from lack of water, and does not need any extra rainfall. Unless a region is infested by DOR or normal weather fronts are being blocked by a DOR-barrier, there is no justification for cloudbusting to increase rainfall in an area where there is a rich native biota adapted to the prevailing climate.
So, even though there has never yet been a flood or other weather-related disaster directly caused by the yearly cloudbusting expeditions of Matt Ryan, the cumulative effect of his more than 20 years of annual increase of rainfall over and above what would fall there naturally, is likely to have had an effect on the balance of native vegetation compared to intrusive species brought in by the farmers from farther east, where the climate is naturally more moist. The conditions that favor farmers and their crops are not the best climate conditions for the plants that grew there for the thousands of years before the arrival of the farmers.
Before any long-term cloudbusting project is undertaken, an ecologist should be involved as a vital part of the team in the planning stages. A botanical census should be done, counting the number of different species of plants in a few selected representative sample acres. This count should be regarded as a baseline, and should be repèated at intervals throughout the life of the project. That way you would know if you are having a bad effect on biodiversity or not. Otherwise, you might be driving numerous native species closer to extinction without any way of knowing it.
Such precautions are actually the usual standard requirement these days for almost any type of project that could affect the environment. But in the 1980s, when Jerome Eden was teaching his course in cloudbusting, this sort of preparation was not so well-known and apparently Matt Ryan has not kept up to date with his education on what should be the proper and responsible practice in the field of cloudbusting.