As director of the Royal Rainmaking Section of the Bureau of Royal Rainmaking and Agriculture Aviation (BRRAA), Mr Warawut Khantiyanan supervises 500 persons involved in day-to-day operations.
Coincidentally, Mr Warawut was born in 1955, the year His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated the concept of royal rainmaking.
Under his leadership, the BRRAA has implemented a rainmaking system regarded by foreign experts as one of the most successful anywhere.
He remains modest despite the recognition. For instance, you won't see his many diplomas or citations in his office at Kasertsat University in Bangkok.
“I have received many commendations, but the greatest honour for me is being granted an audience, on several occasions, with His Majesty the King,” said the 52-year-old director.
“The King has called on our team several times. Sometimes we’ve met with him in the field and sometimes in the Royal Palace. He made us understand his policy and how to apply royal rainmaking techniques to solve water shortages. He stressed that rainmaking is an integral part of national water resources management. The King also taught his unit new cloud-seeding techniques.”
Though born in Bangkok, Mr Warawut became interested in agriculture at an early age. “My father was a military officer who moved from one province to another. Moving around with him, I saw a lot of agricultural activities and decided to work in this field,” he explained.
He joined the Royal Rainmaking Research and Development Institute in 1977 and was trained by M.R. Debriddhi Devakul, who worked with the King to develop the cloud-seeding technique.
“M.R. Debriddhi discovered the cloud-seeding material. I learned a lot from him,” said Mr Warawut. His duties and responsibilities include scheduling the annual rainmaking operations, forming teams to provide training for staff, monitoring the weather and drought situations around Thailand, and joining national and international activities concerning weather modification, hydrology, meteorology, water resources, climate change and natural disasters.
“We work for the King and I spend lot of time on developing his cloud-seeding projects,” said Mr Warawut, who himself has written many articles on the subject of cloud seeding. As a result, he’s been invited to speak at conferences and symposiums in Australia, China, Japan, Oman, the United States and all Asean countries.
Mr Warawut added that he also speaks out to correct misleading articles in some foreign newspapers.
“The writers never contacted me for information,” he said. “In response to their criticisms, I can say that there are no negative side-effects from the rainmaking operations. We do monitoring on a regular basis to see if the cloud seeding affects the environment.”
Scientists assigned to monitor the project collect samples of artificial rain water, as well as soil and leaves of plants in the areas where the rain has fallen, and have found nothing unusual, he says.
“Of course, we have some problems, usually technical, such as a shortage of aircraft or materials, but we can always solve them with the help of other agencies and ministries. Sometimes we can get additional aircraft from the Royal Thai Air Force or from the Royal Thai Navy.”
In fact, there is a cloud-seeding committee comprised of representatives from various government agencies.
Overall, the Royal Rainmaking Project has been a great success, but nothing is perfect.
“Sometimes it rains far away from the designated area because the wind suddenly changes direction. The wind direction varies a lot during the day. In the morning we launch balloons to measure the wind velocity and direction to plan and prepare for daily cloud-seeding operations, but maybe in the afternoon the wind changes its direction or speed and the clouds move away from where we hope to produce the rain,” he explained.
Rainmaking is not cheap — in fact, it is quite costly — but its benefits are great, said Mr Warawut.
In the beginning, His Majesty himself financed the operations. “And even now, he will send his Special Royal Rainmaking Project team from the Royal Palace to work with us,” said Mr Warawut.
Requests for cloud seeding often come from farmers, he explained. These are processed and summarised by one section of the BRRAA and forwarded to Mr Warawut, who will then organise the seeding.
“We normally meet in Bangkok to plan the cloud seeding for the next few days. There we calculate a budget for the operations, what personnel and aircraft will be employed, et cetera. When everything is ready to go, we dispatch our teams to the sites. They have to report daily the result of the operation. I have to look at the reports, and if there’s some problem, I must provide recommendations for improvement.
Behind the story:
A holder of a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 1976 and a Master’s degree in Meteorology in 1991 from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in the United States, Mr Warawut joined the civil service in 1977 as a junior scientist at the Royal Rainmaking Research and Development Institute, now the BRRAA. He was appointed BRRAA director in 2002. At the conclusion of this interview he invited me to Nakhon Sawan airport to witness preparations for the rainmaking mission both on the ground and in the air.
BRRAA employs highly experienced people, some of whom have been with the bureau for decades. “They are real experts in various fields. All our pilots resigned from the Thai Air Force to work with us,” he noted.
“We continuously conduct research to try to improve the rainmaking. For example, we are trying to make the materials smaller, and get them to stop sticking together and so on.”
Despite his director’s position, it’s unusual to find Mr Warawut behind his office desk. More often he travels around the country supervising the cloud seeding.
“My job takes up almost all of my time. Before I could play badminton and rugby and look after the garden in my house, but not now. And even when I have some free time, I like to develop my job,” said Mr Warawut.
“Drought occurs not just during the dry season but throughout the year, every year. The government really is trying to solve the problem all over Thailand, so that’s why we have to be alert, and that's why I don’t have time for hobbies.”
He said the busiest year on record for the BRRAA was 1998-9. A severe drought occurred and 15 rainmaking teams were sent out to do the cloud seeding. But every year it puts in about 1,500 flying hours.
“We often receive enquiries from abroad about rainmaking. There are many scientists from many countries who have heard about our cloud seeding and are interested about our work,” Mr Warawut said.
“We now have facilities for cloud-seeding available every day in every region of Thailand. We are using five different materials — calcium oxide, sodium chloride, dry ice, sea salt and urea. We select the chemical according to the state of the clouds.”
As for the future, he sees himself in the same position. “I love my job. I started my career here and I will end it here as well. It is also my intention to work after retirement. If my department asks me to help, I will accept.
“I am very proud of working in the Royal Rainmaking Project because it is beneficial to all Thai people, no matter rich or poor.”