Tribute to the King
Since the beginning of his reign, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has made numerous trips to all parts of the country to meet his people and learn about their living conditions. This led to the creation of Royal Development Projects to improve the standard of living of the Thai people, promote the sustainable use of natural resources, and protect the environment. According to the Royal Development Projects Board, 3,998 projects have been undertaken during 1982-2006. The highest number of these projects — 1,383 — involve water resources. The other projects are related to the environment (964), agriculture (524), occupational promotion (315), public welfare (166), communications (111), public heath (48), and others.
By Maxmilian Wechsler
His Majesty the King’s innovative techniques to make clouds yield their precious substance over parched farmlands and forests have been recognised worldwide.
Pratipat Klampeng is one of many Thai farmers who have benefited from the Royal Rainmaking Project. He and his wife Nisarat grow corn, rice and sugarcane on 20 rai of land in Nong Mamong district in Chai Nat province, about 200 kilometres north of Bangkok.
“Like thousands of other farmers in our district, we suffered almost every year from drought, mainly during the dry season between January to April — but not anymore,” he said the 27-year-old farmer.
Mr Pratipat heard about the rainmaking for some time before he thought about asking for help. He thought that the government would select only farmers with a lot of land to help — not people like him with only a relatively small farm. Then, while watching a television news programme on rainmaking broadcast, he learned that any farmer facing drought and in need of rain should contact the Royal Rainmaking Centre of the central region in Nakhon Sawan.
“I immediately called the number displayed on the screen, and was requested to write details about my farm with a map, and to fax it to the Bureau of the Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation (BRRAA) in Bangkok. I did so before 5pm on the same day.”
The following morning, Mr Pratipat received a call from the BRRAA in Bangkok, and to his pleasant surprise he was informed that an airplane would disperse rainmaking material over his area that very day. He waited for many hours, but was disappointed when it didn’t rain. After he received another call from the BRRAA to check on whether the rains had come, it was discovered that Mr Pratipat had made an error in his request and the aircraft was sent to do the cloud seeding in the wrong place. He quickly sent another fax with the correct information.
On the morning of April 14, a BRRAA official phoned and said that several planes would conduct cloud seeding operations in the region soon.
A few minutes later, Mr Pratipat heard noises from an aircraft and actually saw one high up in the sky.
At around 1pm it began to rain for the first time in many weeks. The rain lasted for about three hours and continued on the following days, which was consistent with what he had been told. The BRRAA official made several phone calls to enquire about the rain and told him that the cloud seeding would be done a few more times.
According to him, there are 41 villages in Nong Mamong district, with about 6,000 houses and 19,000 people. The district has about 160,000 rai of farmland.
After two months, neither Mr Pratipat nor any other villagers have experienced any side effects from the royal rain, as some skeptics warned.
“The cloud seeding materials didn’t affect the quality of drinking water. No one got ill, the soil didn’t change colour and our crops look good and grow normally,” Mr Pratipat assured, pointing to his healthy fields.
However, he did have one complaint to make: “We have received a lot of water from the royal rain, but we can't save it as there’s no good irrigation system, with a reservoir or ponds, in our district.”
Early on the morning of May 2, Nakhon Sawan airport was buzzing with people, both around the main building and on the tarmac. They weren’t vacationers, but pilots, technicians and other staff of the BRRAA preparing one Casa and two Cessna Caravan aircraft for another rainmaking mission.
Paradoxically, while preparations were in full swing to create an artificial rain, a “real rain” was falling. But this didn’t interrupt the preparations because, according to data received by the BRRAA, some other areas in central Thailand still needed water. The mission was on.
A number of BRRAA pilots in the “operation room” were seated around a large table examining the latest weather information to select a destination for the cloud seeding.
In the meantime, sacks of rainmaking material, 25kg each, were loaded inside three aircraft, with mechanics making a final check.
Shortly afterwards, one plane after the other roared into the cloudy skies, flying in a formation close together. After another 30 minutes pilots signalled to the workers to begin the cloud seeding procedure.
The material was then poured into a square-shaped cylinder attached to the bottom of the cabin, from which it left the craft resembling a trace of smoke. After all the materials were dispersed, the planes returned to the airfield. The flight — which was rather rough and uncomfortable for this reporter — lasted about 90 minutes.
“Today we conducted a routine cloud seeding flight according to the weather information and the radar data received from our web base. There is no additional request from the farmers,” declared Mr Warawut Khantiyanan, director of the Royal Rainmaking Section, who was supervising the operation.
“We work like a doctor in hospital. Clouds are our patients who need to be cured. In the morning we measure and examine the weather conditions in order to analyse the weakness of clouds — why they are not able to produce rain on that particular day. Then we give a prescription to our technicians to prepare the medicines, seeding materials in this case, and apply them precisely to the clouds, step by step. We have to monitor the clouds’ behaviour closely while they are growing from the baby clouds to the big ones that give us rain,” Mr Warawut explained.
From the goings on at the airport and in the skies, it was apparent that the BRRAA staff are highly dedicated and motivated to do their best for His Majesty the King and the Thai people. As Mr Warawut mentioned, the details of each cloud seeding flight as well as its results are routinely reported to the office of His Majesty.
Early in his reign, HM the King became interested in helping farmers who are dependent on rainwater for their cultivation. He began to study artificial rainmaking techniques to seek ways to ease drought situations.
In 1955, while travelling to visit his subjects in northeastern Thailand’s Phuphan Mountains, His Majesty found the droughts were becoming more frequent and more severe. He learned that these droughts probably resulted from deforestation, climate changes and natural variations in seasonal rainfall.
The King noticed large masses of clouds over the area. The clouds, however, were unable to aggregate sufficiently to cause rainfall, resulting in long dry spells even in the period of the southwestern monsoon, when rainfall should have been plentiful. He wondered how to make the clouds intense enough to yield their rain. This was the starting point for his effort to conduct rainmaking operations.
Recognising the potential of augmenting national water supplies, the concept of rainmaking or rain enhancement by means of cloud seeding was introduced by His Majesty on November 14, 1955, when he donated his private funds to launch the Royal Rainmaking Project. Over the years he has also devoted a great deal of his time and energy to develop rainmaking technology.
After visiting the United States in 1962, His Majesty began to study how clouds might be seeded to produce rain. In 1969 he carried out a preliminary test at Khao Yai National Park using a Cessna 180 and dry ice.
Also in 1969, His Majesty used two aircraft around Hua Hin in a variety of weather conditions to determine what worked best.
Initially, he financed the research with his own funds, but in 1970 the government provided additional funding for rainmaking, and the Royal Rainmaking Research and Development Institute was born.
Since the late 1960s, various scientific organisations in the Kingdom have been involved in a series of experiments and operational programmes to increase rainfall through weather modification.
A national programme to modify weather began in 1971 and was formalised in 1975 through establishment of the BRRAA, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. It maintains eight operation and four research centres, with headquarters in Bangkok.
The BRRAA has a staff of 500 that includes engineers, pilots, scientists, aircraft and electronic technicians, general administrators and workers.
According to Mr Warawut, the principal objective of the operation to increase rainfall through the seeding of clouds over important water basins and agricultural areas where rainfall in some years is less than optimal for crop production.
The cloud seeding programme is based on a seeding technique that is unique to Thailand: the seeding of warm clouds and cold clouds is a six-step process with exothermic, endothermic, silver iodine, and dry ice being delivered in a specific time and space in an attempt to produce a combination of dynamic and microphysical effects which support the increase of rainfall.
The annual schedule of rainmaking operations is: February-April: increase summer rainfall for agriculture and forest fire suppression; May-October: enhance and redistribute rainfall for agriculture; September-October:
fill up reservoirs.
“Our mission is all year around, even in the cool season, whenever the weather is favourable for our technique,” Mr Warawut said.
As water needs increase worldwide, the demand for weather modification services will also increase.
Since the initial experimental efforts in the first part of the 20th century, more than 50 countries around the world have been involved in projects of various types to modify the weather. The first-ever recorded scientific attempt was an experiment by Professor Emory Leon Chafee at Harvard University in the United States, who dispensed charged sand from an airplane in 1924 to try to produce rain.
These days Australia, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United States and a number of other countries have all carried out successful precipitation enhancement projects, but according to many experts the Thai method is one of the most effective.
His Majesty continues to investigate new techniques. In 1999 he discovered how to activate a cloud growth mechanism to increase cloud density at both upper and lower levels simultaneously to increase the amount and extent of rainfall on the ground. The BRRAA has tried out the new technique and it has proven to be a very efficient way to induce rain.
Behind the story:
After arriving in the early morning of May 2, 2007 to Nakhon Sawan airport, I was welcomed by Mr Warawut. He introduced me to the pilots and allowed me to observe them in the operations room preparing for that day’s mission, which was conducted by three aircraft. I also got a chance to observe watched technicians and other personnel.
During the flight I preferred to stand – except during take-off and landing – venturing into the cockpit, observing the other two planes and taking photos of man who was pouring a chemical into a cylinder at the bottom of the cabin. The pilots explained details of this particular operation, including the target location and other information. The plane sometimes shook violently. This was apparently normal, but I must admit I was relieved when we landed and glad I hadn’t taken any food in the hours before the flight.
As more new techniques are being discovered and introduced, His Majesty’s ingenuity for inventing rainmaking techniques has been widely recognised and has made Thailand the centre of weather modification activities in the Asean region.
The Royal Rainmaking Project was registered with the World Meteorological Organisation in 1982 and today shares research data with similar bodies around the world.
The European Patent Office issued a patent for weather modification using Royal Rainmaking technology to His Majesty the King in October 2005. The patent, for 20 years, has been recognised in 30 European countries. Subsequently, the Thai government resolved to honour His Majesty the King as the “Father of the Royal Rainmaking” and marked November 14 as the “Father’s Day of the Royal Rainmaking.”
For the residents of Nong Mamong district, His Majesty’s efforts will be long remembered, even though the rainmaking operations have been halted for the time being.
“As Mother Nature has resumed her duties, we don’t need the BRRAA’s services at this moment, but surely we will need it when the rains stop,” said Mr Pratipat.
“We thank His Majesty the King for everything he has done for us. From now on our crops will be safe and so will our livelihood.”