NOREEN: Cloud seeding a response to the drought

BARRY NOREEN Updated: December 11, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 11, 2012

Thanks for the questions, readers — please keep them coming.

And now, some answers.
Jennifer Catterson wants to know whether Colorado Springs Utilities still takes part in cloud-seeding efforts to combat drought conditions.
The answer, Jennifer, is yes. Utilities is a member of the Front Range Water Council, a group of water providers that joins ski areas in paying for a cloud-seeding program to produce snowfall.
This season Durango-based Western Weather Consultants will fire up 78 generators placed in various spots in the Colorado Rockies. This is nothing like “The Rainmaker” and does not involve Burt Lancaster hiking the Continental Divide in a cowboy hat while pounding a bass drum.
The company’s Larry Hjermstad explained that different sets of generators are used depending on conditions. Then the atmosphere is injected with silver iodide crystals that can attract moisture to produce snow.
The generators power a gadget that is like “a big Bunsen burner on top of a tank,” said Hjermstad, who has contracted with ski areas for 37 years.
In the early part of the snow season Hjermstad works for ski areas, but at the end of December the water providers start paying him, too.
Colorado Springs Utilities’ share of the cost is $9,600. When there is a big snow season, Hjermstad makes less money, because when snowpack levels reach a certain point, he shuts his operation down.
We’re in the second year of low snow; so far it looks like the cloud seeding will continue.

There are cloud-seeding skeptics, but it is generally accepted that given the right conditions, cloud seeding can improve the chances of snowfall. Thus the utility spends thousands, not millions, on it.

Reader Fran Pitaro wanted to know about “a huge park-and-ride parking lot at the intersection of Woodmen and I-25,” because it appears the lot is always empty. Actually there are two lots. One was built by a developer and stands empty most days.

A smaller one was built by the Colorado Department of Transportation and was used by passengers boarding the now-defunct Front Range Express (FREX) bus service. Although FREX is gone, and its buses were sold to a rural transportation district that operates in Pitkin and Garfield counties, carpooling commuters still park in the free CDOT lot.

Reader Shawn Rosvold asked if there is any chance for a commuter rail line to Denver.

Answer: Not any time soon. There was a cursory study, but at a meeting last summer, Black Forest residents attacked the notion of ever putting a rail line through their community, but there is no money for such a project, anyhow.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contact him at 719-636-0363 or barry.noreen@gazette.com.

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