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As It Was: Cloud Seeding Creates Controversy in Southern Oregon

Hailstorms frequently threatened Southern Oregon orchards in the early 1900s, damaging fruit every year but one between 1910 and 1948.  By 1951, farmers decided to do something about it.

They hired two former Navy pilots to seed local clouds with a liquid believed capable of reducing the growth of hailstones, while still allowing rain.  No hail fell in the Rogue Valley that year.

Not everyone was pleased. Some area ranchers headed by H.L. Claycomb of Ashland, formed a committee against what they called the “cloud busters", complaining they were causing a drought.  

Claycomb charged that the cloud seeders had prevented at least three rainstorms in July.  He said he saw huge clouds develop over the valley, but quickly dissolve without dropping any rain.  In their defense, the pilots said they never flew during the month of July.  One pilot said the most rain fell during June, when he and his partner were seeding the clouds against hailstorms.

Local granges weighed in.  The Sams Valley Grange sided with the ranchers, while the Griffin Creek Grange said it would accept “whatever rainfall happens along.”

Sources: Works cited: "'Cloudnapings' Stir Oregon." Berkshire Evening Eagle, 19 Oct. 1950 [Pittsfield, Mass.].

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.