The Rise and Fall of Federal Weather Modification Policy


  • Stanley A Changnon Climate and Meteorology Section Illinois State Water Survey
  • W Henry Lambright Syracuse Research Corporation



Three hundred million dollars in federal funds have been expended since 1960 to conduct research and to develop weather modification capabilities. This has resulted in techniques to operationally eliminate fogs, to reduce or enhance stratus clouds, and to increase snowfall and rainfall during certain conditions (American Meteorological Society, 1985). But, the annual R and D funding has been halved since 1978, and the general public, many scientists, and most government decision makers now believe, rightly or wrongly, that major scientific uncertainties and policy problems exist in the field. Rather than serving as spurs to heightened federal efforts, these beliefs have had a dampening effect. Support for the field is decreasing and weather modification R and D is in trouble. Why? Several reasons for the current state of affairs have been offered including poor experimental designs, widespread use of uncertain modification techniques, inadequate management of projects, unsubstantiated claims of success, inadequate project funding, and wasteful expenditures. This review of federal policies relating to the management of the R and D of weather modification concludes that after several policy decisions in the 1950’s and early 1960’s which had a positive impact, certain federal policy decisions since the late 1960’s combined to be a primary reason for the lack of a coordinated, cost-effective national research program. These policy failures are seen as one cause for the slower than expected scientific and technical advances in the weather modification field, as well as the recent decrease in interest in its research, development, and usage. Congress’ decision to end the lead agency role of NSF in 1968 appears unfortunate, and then in 1971, NSF leaders shifted the research program into the applied research and technology-oriented RANN Directorate, a questionable decision. The USDA, representing the U.S. sector with the greatest potential benefits from most capabilities to modify the weather, failed to significantly participate in the R and D of weather modification. NOAA scientists tackled difficult weather modification phenomena. Ironically, however, considering its role as the nation’s weather agency, NOAA did not assume the lead agency role for R and D, although it has been recommended for that status by most independent assessments done over the past 20 years. DOD agencies supported key early research but then performed surreptitious cloud seeding programs to make rain to interdict enemy troops during the Vietnam conflict. This led to congressional condemnation and the end of large-scale R and D in weather modification by DOD. The Bureau of Reclamation program, based solidly on its western constituency and congressional support, has been the major effort sustaining the field during the past decade. However, the agency’s focused mission (water) made it unable to embrace R and D of all other weather forms (fog, hail, winds, etc.). Hence it was unwilling to assume the lead agency role. The summation of these mistakes, omissions and limitations has led to an ineffective national policy. Virtually every study of the field has indicated that the societal benefits of weather modification are too great to be ignored. The field and nation need a stated policy that is based on the view that weather modification capabilities are in the national interest, and that a well planned and well coordinated federal R and D effort should be conducted to ensure the ultimate achievement of that goal. This effort requires a balanced program in basic research and applied field projects, and it requires coordination across agencies. One agency should be given lead status and resources for generic technological development across weather modification application areas. These calls for policy change have been made before, but the current state of affairs requires they be made again. Federal policy has retrogressed rather than progressed, and the field and nation have suffered accordingly.


How to Cite

Changnon, S. A., & Lambright, W. H. (1987). The Rise and Fall of Federal Weather Modification Policy. The Journal of Weather Modification, 19(1), 1–12.



Scientific Papers