Weather control. Juxtaposing those two words is enough to raise eyebrows in a world where even the best weather models still fail to nail every forecast, and when the effects of climate change on sea level height, seasonal averages of weather phenomena, and biological behaviour are being watched with interest by all, regardless of political or scientific persuasion. But between the late nineteenth century – when the United States first funded an attempt to "shock" rain out of clouds – and the late 1940s, rainmaking (as it had been known) became weather control. And then things got out of control.
In Make it Rain, Kristine C. Harper tells the long and somewhat ludicrous history of state-funded attempts to manage, manipulate, and deploy the weather in America. Harper shows that governments from the federal to the local became helplessly captivated by the idea that weather control could promote agriculture, health, industrial output, and economic growth at home, or even be used as a military weapon and diplomatic tool abroad. Clear fog for landing aircraft? There's a project for that. Gentle rain for strawberries? Let's do it! Enhanced snowpacks for hydroelectric utilities? Check. The heyday of these weather control programs came during the Cold War, as the atmosphere came to be seen as something to be defended, weaponized, and manipulated. Yet Harper demonstrates that today there are clear implications for our attempts to solve the problems of climate change.
Kristine C. Harper is associate professor of history at Florida State University. She is the author of Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology.
"Harper's detailed history of weather control in the United States, reminds us that clouds have been objects of desire and frustration for some time. Her story of the messy interface between science and government policy unfolds across the twentieth century, but it reaches its emotional crest in the 1950s. In that decade, fears of Soviet domination and dreams of drought-busting rain catalyzed government weather control projects motivated by utopian, if not Promethean, desires to use science and technology to benefit the American people."
"In Make it Rain, historian Kristine Harper treats weather control as a political agent in the hands of the American state. Politicians at local, state and national levels issued edicts in pursuit of their political ends to bring enhanced 'sky water' to their thirsty districts, or to mobilize the clouds for diplomatic or military ends; 'entrepreneurial scientists' took their money and produced technical reports. But in the long run, the weather did what the weather does."
"Few technological projects have been as bold and as bizarre as the mid-twentieth century attempts to control weather. Harper's study – meticulously researched and clearly written – describes and analyzes all the multifarious projects in a compact text. This history of controversy and ignominious failure offers valuable lessons about how government in America behaves when it tries to impose its will, even upon nature itself."
– Spencer Weart, author of The Discovery of Global Warming
"Make it Rain is a comprehensive history of American efforts to control the weather and the hubris of those who promised to tame hurricanes and conquer drought. Harper's account not only tells this fascinating story, it offers valuable historical context for those who are grappling with the challenges of climate change today."
– Brian Balogh, cohost of Backstory with the American History Guys
"Harper provides a detailed analysis of government involvement in attempts to force or prevent rain, disperse fog, increase snowpack, etc., from the late 19th century through the 1980s. These attempts were regarded by many as 'fringe' science at best, engaged by crackpots or con artists. However, serious problems with foggy airfields, drought, flooding, and hurricanes led to interest and funding from some mainstream scientists, governmental agencies, and legislators. Harper divides her work into three sections, beginning with the development of serious scientific attention to the issue, continuing with efforts to develop and regulate weather control by federal and state agencies, and ending with efforts to use weather control as a weapon and diplomatic 'tool.' Recommended."