2006-04-01 / Front Page

'Rain Making' Experiment Planned

Air Force Will Fly Over County To Force Rain For Canoe Race
By Paul W. Heimel, News Correspondent

This is a government released photograph of the Air Force's new 'cloud-seeding' aircraft. Several of them will be in Cameron County later this week to force rainfall in an effort to guarantee good water conditions for the Cameron County Canoe & Kayak Classic. A chance meeting between two local men and a government official in Virginia turned out to be a gift for the canoe event. The government will experiment with its rain-making technology right here in Cameron County. This is a government released photograph of the Air Force's new 'cloud-seeding' aircraft. Several of them will be in Cameron County later this week to force rainfall in an effort to guarantee good water conditions for the Cameron County Canoe & Kayak Classic. A chance meeting between two local men and a government official in Virginia turned out to be a gift for the canoe event. The government will experiment with its rain-making technology right here in Cameron County. A chance encounter with an elite U. S. Air Force experimental team could lead to big things for the 32nd annual Cameron County Canoe & Kayak Classic.

Beginning Tuesday and continuing through Friday afternoon, a team of Air Force specialists from the Gen. Ewell B. Laffin Meteorological Base in Virginia will set up operations at the St. Marys and Bradford airports. For a period of roughly 72 hours, teams will be flying a series of maneuvers high above the clouds in Cameron County and the immediate surrounding area.

Their mission: cloudseeding.

By strategically dropping a special type of vaporexpanding ordnance into the cloud cover within a 30-mile radius of Emporium, the teams -part of the "Laffin Renegades" -hope to generate a significant increase in rainfall.

"This has worked before in parts of the Midwest that have been crippled by extended drought," said the squadron's commander, Capt. Hugh Murris. "By detonating the proper charge into the clouds, we can basically cause a chain reaction that unleashes the water vapor. The laws of gravity take over from there. On the ground, what you'll see is an intense rainstorm lasting about an hour, followed by clearing skies and then another rainstorm about a half-hour later, and so on."

Vote Due Today

Nothing is official until the Cameron County Board of Commissioners passes an ordinance approving the Defense Department manifest for the Laffin Renegades. The board will meet in special session on Saturday morning at 11:00. Passage of the measure appears to be a formality.

"The Canoe and Kayak Classic is important to the area's economy and a great way to kick off the spring," said Commissioner Glen Fiebig "I suggest that anyone who is inconvenienced by all of the rain just pull out an umbrella and deal with it. They might also want to make sure their sump pumps are working."

Directors of both the Bradford and St. Marys airports have already approved the plan for a temporary encampment. More than 100 Air Force specialists and two dozen aircraft will begin making their way to the area this weekend.

It's all very welcome news to Randy Bailey, organizer of the Classic, who has been fretting for weeks over the low water levels that could make this year's races a bust.

Right place, right time!

The unusual turn of events all started in a hotel dining hall in Richmond, Va., where Emporium's Don "Ollie" Olivett and Tim Meisel were lamenting the low water conditions for this year's Classic.

Dame Fortune was smiling on Emporium, because Capt. Murris was seated at an adjacent table and overheard the conversation.

"It was almost like an angel descended upon us," Olivett recalled. "The captain said, 'You want rain? I'll get you some rain.' We were stunned!"

In a phone conversation with the Endeavor, Murris said that area residents will have to be prepared. The amount of rain that will be generated from the vapor-dispersal seeding will be based largely on the vapor density of next week's cloud cover. Federal regulations limit the amount of vapor dispersal discharge the teams can use, due to environmental concerns and sound restrictions.

"We'll try to fly the missions during the daylight hours," Murris said. "That's because the seeding process is rather loud and we don't want to wake people. The intensity isn't as high as a sonic boom, but put it this way - people might want to make sure any fragile items such as expensive glassware are secured. They're going to know we're there!"

'Summoning Circle' coming

Bailey has taken one other desperate measure in an attempt to make the Classic a success. On Wednesday evening at dusk, members of the Seneca Nation of Indians will gather along a field just north of the ball diamonds on Rt. 120, between Emporium and Gardeau. There, they'll join arms in a traditional "Summoning Circle of Unktahee."

"At this time, we're expecting more than 250 Senecas from the Salamanca, N.Y., area, but it's possible that the turnout could be even higher," Bailey said. "Seneca leaders are spreading the word through the Nation of Indians, so it's possible that we could have hundreds more by Wednesday night."

One such event last spring in upstate New York attracted almost 3,000 Senecas. Within 24 hours, the area was inundated by torrential downpours that showed up as only a tiny blip on National Weather Service radar readings only hours earlier.

Tribal leader Worthy Chief Cameron Redface explained that Unktahee is the "God of water." According to tradition, when believers join hands in a circular fashion, their positive energy can summon rainfall. The practice dates back hundreds of years and was often used in times of severe drought by agrarian societies before the U.S. was settled.

Wednesday's event will begin with the placement of dozens of canoes and kayaks in the center of the field. Participants will them form a circle around the vessels, stepping backward in unison to form as large a circle as can be made without losing contact with each other.

From the circle's center, Chief Redface will begin the ceremony with a rain dance and the "Song of Summoning." Everyone in the circle will be asked to join in. The ceremony is open to non-Indians, as well. Anyone wishing to participate is asked to be on site at least 30 minutes before dusk.

In the event of rain, the Summoning Circle will be rescheduled for later in the week.

By the way, happy April Fools Day!

Return to top