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Thirsty? Blame cloud seeders

July 12, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Mother Nature sure knows how to hurt a guy. Or perhaps, I just got too greedy. Maybe you had noticed.

For the past two months, I've been biding my time, using the exquisite patience and meticulousness of one who is carefully barbecuing a whole goat over a spit.

Just a couple more days, I kept thinking, just a couple more days. Not too soon, let the situation get good and ripe and then let an unsuspecting public have it with both barrels. I reckoned I was about a week away. All it had to do was stay dry. But then along came Cindy and ruined the entire feast day. Along with washing away the drought, Cindy washed away a perfectly good column on the Return of the Cloud Seeders.

It's been, what, probably five years since I've touched on the subject of c.s. It's a topic that is near and dear to my heart as any, and ranks right up there with yard sales and tip jars as locally inspired topics that germinate within me a sort of horrored fascination from which I cannot turn away.

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The county has grown a lot of late. Perhaps some of you are not familiar with the concept of cloud seeding, so if I may ask the indulgence of longtime readers, a quick definition is in order.

It gets dry here a lot. We seem to be in a little pocket where storms will bypass us to the north and south, leaving much of the county with brown lawns and parched crops. Realistically, we probably are no wetter or drier on average than any other mid-Atlantic community, but with our agricultural background we are always keenly aware of the ole moisture levels and tend to get jealous and angry when we see other communities getting storms that we don't.

Keep in mind that these drought patterns can be scientifically explained by the positioning of the jetstream. Keep in mind that - here in Washington County - we ain't real big on science, if you know what I'm saying.

See, the problem is that we're more into biblical vengeance and, strictly speaking, it's hard to punish science. Science cannot be strung up by the thumbs, burned at the stake or otherwise given an attitude adjustment. Something that cannot feel pain makes a poor scapegoat for a community determined to get even.

After all, you can't even see the jet stream. As a religious community, it might seem that we have no business being picky about putting our faith in things that we cannot see, but we're pretty good about keeping our spirituality compartmentalized.

Ergo, we need a reason for it to be dry, dang it. A physical, seeable, understandable reason - nothing so esoterically whimsical as a jet stream will do.

True enough, in an impressive case of cross-referencing, we did have several people during the last drought who wrote letters to the editor saying this was God's way of punishing us for electing Bill Clinton. My problem with this was that it was mostly a localized drought, and here in Washington County we voted against Clinton. The parts of the nation that voted for Clinton were receiving plenty of rain.

Besides, if I were a deity, I would think droughts, locusts, plagues, etc., would be soooo 900 B.C. There are many more modern ways of punishing people today, and I am thinking specifically of "American Idol."

Besides, I don't believe that God makes bad things happen. I think He's too wrapped up in the beautiful stuff. So to my way of thinking, He's off the hook. I'm sure this news provides Him with a huge sense of relief.

So that leaves the cloud seeders. The theory goes that small planes scramble from undisclosed locations every time thunder rears its ugly head, and pilots pierce the clouds, releasing silver oxide crystals (available at any good home improvement store, I would imagine), which cause the cloud to break up without producing any rain.

Who would do such a thing, and why? A long time ago, people blamed the orchardists, the theory being they feared the possible hail in storms would ruin their fruit. A couple holes in this theory developed, most notably that agricultural crops that don't get any moisture tend to, well, die.

More recently - and this is where my florid conspiracy theory promised to roil with fresh intrigue - the housing industry has come under fire, the thinking being that rain costs builders valuable construction days.

And have we not been undergoing a boom in housing? Ah, it would have been a beautiful thing, melding the housing boom with the drought into a cause-and-effect so clear even an idiot could see it. It would have kept You Said It fueled for weeks.

And then - bam - two inches of rain.

So what am I going to do now? What can I do? I'm going to get into my black helicopter and leave.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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