Luzhkov the Weather Warlock

I think I finally understand why the Kremlin was so hell bent on securing Yuri Luzhkov’s continued domination over Moscow politics: the weather.  Yuri Mikhailovich can control the weather.  Or so he promises.  According to Time,

For just a few million dollars, the mayor’s office will hire the Russian Air Force to spray a fine chemical mist over the clouds before they reach the capital, forcing them to dump their snow outside the city. Authorities say this will be a boon for Moscow, which is typically covered with a blanket of snow from November to March. Road crews won’t need to constantly clear the streets, and traffic — and quality of life — will undoubtedly improve.

iphoto_1251987724602-1-0jpgThis won’t be Luzhkov’s first foray into the Promethean.  In 2002, Moscow’s Grand Prince pushed a project to reverse the flow of the Ob River to irrigate Central Asia.  Needless to say, the people of Central Asia are still parched.  Luzhkov is also known for shelling out $2-3 million to the Russian Air Force to seed the clouds around Victory Day and City Day.  With a city budget of $40 billion, $2-3 million is minuscule price to pay for a sunny day.  “Well, we should do the same with the snow!” Time quotes Luzhkov from a speech he gave to farmers in September. “Then outside Moscow there will be more moisture, a bigger harvest, while for us it won’t snow as much. It will make financial sense.”  The total cost to keep the snow at bay all winter is estimated to be $6 million, half of what the capital shells out to clear the streets.

While Time calls Luzhkov’s attempt at playing weather warlock “his zaniest plan to date,” you can’t fault the boyar too much.  He just the next episode in a much zanier history. Weather manipulation research began in the Soviet Union in the 1930s under Stalin’s order and continues up to the present.  Putin used weather control in 2003 for the St. Petersburg 300th Anniversary celebrations.  In September, China deployed 18 planes to “spray cloud dispersal chemicals” to prevent bad weather during its recent 60th Anniversary celebrations.

Creating clear holiday skies  is not its only application.  According to James R. Fleming, during the Cold War both the US and Soviet Union saw weather manipulation as a potential weapon.

Howard T. Orville, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s weather adviser, published an influential 1954 article in Collier’s that included a variety of scenarios for using weather as a weapon of warfare. Planes would drop hundreds of balloons containing seeding crystals into the jet stream. Downstream, when the fuses on the balloons exploded, the crystals would fall into the clouds, initiating rain and miring enemy operations. The Army Ordnance Corps was investigating another technique: loading silver iodide and carbon dioxide into 50-caliber tracer bullets that pilots could fire into clouds. A more insidious technique would strike at an adversary’s food supply by seeding clouds to rob them of moisture before they reached enemy agricultural areas. Speculative and wildly optimistic ideas such as these from official sources, together with threats that the Soviets were aggressively pursuing weather control, triggered what Newsweek called “a weather race with the Russians,” and helped fuel the rapid expansion of meteorological research in all areas, including the creation of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which was established in 1960.

The American war machine even implemented “weather warfare” during the Vietnam War.  Between 1967 and 1972, the American military shelled out $3.6 million a year to have planes fly more “2,600 cloud seeding sorties” to “reduce the trafficability” on portions of the Ho Chi Minh Trail as part of covert operations “POPEYE” and “Intermediary-Compatriot.”

In present day Russia, it seems weather manipulation is mostly for adding sunny and clear skies to their “palaces on Monday.”  Not everyone is keen on the idea, though. Russian environmentalists are up in arms over the idea of “banning” snow from Moscow.  They fear that such a drastic alteration of Moscow weather patterns will have long term disastrous effects. The plan still has to pass through Moscow ecology department and discussed with suburban residents since the snow will be dumped on them. However, given the mayor’s political weight, there is little doubt the plan will pass.  Man’s destined domination over nature will not be denied.