Neil Brackin can be hard to get a hold of. In this case, his flight was delayed from Xiaxiang China, and he was Skyping in at thirteen hours ahead of Fargo from Beijing. It isn’t out of the ordinary; as president of Weather Modification Inc., Brackin has been to 15 countries in less than ten months. It’s part of a two year plan to amp up the evangelism of their brand, and let the world know they exist.
Why? Because WMI is attempting to combat a global problem, and they want to spread the word.
“The larger story out there is about water,” Brackin said. This is evident in the growing concern around water scarcity; two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies list water as their #1 concern for their business going forward, and the World Economic Forum lists water as the #1 long term risk for economic development, he said.
“The water story is becoming more and more prevalent – domestically, here in the U.S., and around the world,” he said. “What we need to do is let people know about cloud-seeding.”
Cloud-seeding is the primary method of weather modification, and is used to increase precipitation. It involves flying a plane directly into a storm cloud and spraying small particles, WMI uses silver iodide, which causes water molecules to band together and coalesce into raindrops.
It might sound futuristic, but this has been going on for decades, Brackin explained. In fact, WMI was founded by two farmer-pilots back in 1961, in the small town of Bowman, ND. They understood the pitfalls of weather, growing up in a region that experienced desert amounts of rain and frequent hailstorms. It drove them to look into the forefront of weather modification, and Weather Modification Inc. was formed.
Since the beginning, WMI co-founder Pat Sweeney was looking at the global impact. One of the first things he did was look at the capabilities of what they were doing in North Dakota, and draw a connection with the drought currently happening at the time in the Middle East.
Brackin, who was an intern with WMI in the late 90’s, remembers how Sweeney said, “This could be so much bigger than hail mitigation in North Dakota.” Sweeney contacted authorities in Amman, Jordan, offering their cloud-seeding services. WMI landed their first international gig.
Their international work has continued over the decades, and it has started to get some attention. Last year Bloomberg published an article, titled “Weather on Demand: Making it rain is now a global business”, wherein reporter Amanda Little covered how cloud seeding is being used by WMI to combat intense droughts in India.
Little also touched on the competition for weather modification, pointing out that the biggest competitor for WMI is the Chinese government. “There’s no bigger rival in aerial cloud seeding than the Chinese government, which spends hundreds of millions a year seeding clouds in 22 of its 23 provinces, both to clear pollution above cities and to enhance rainfall for farming,” she writes. “China has yet to allow private companies to enter its market, but Sweeney is making inroads; he sold his first cloud-seeding plane to Beijing last year.”
For Brackin to be in Beijing talking with the government is a big step forward.
“Part of [the Chinese] government’s five year plan right now is to heavily invest in further development of the technology and incorporating it, really into their water management planning,” Brackin said.
They do this, in China and elsewhere around the globe, by setting up what Brackin calls a complete “turnkey” solution. This means they supply equipment, people and training to establish a fully operational cloud-seeding system.
“That’s what we’re helping partner with here [in Beijing], to elevate the efficiency of the cloud-seeding,” he said.
The “chemtrail” controversy
Not everyone is on board for weather modification. Some argue that the long term affects of using chemicals like silver iodide to change the weather are unknown. They call the long trails left by weather modification pilots a “chemtrail” or a chemical trail, pointing to the adverse affects that could occur from spreading iodide in the air.
“When does good science become bad science?” asks an anti-weather modification Facebook page from British Columbia. “When science starts altering the weather.”
WMI has responded with elaborate reports on the environmental impact of using silver iodide, arguing that the amount of iodide left in the air is minuscule, and that the evidence shows “no environmentally harmful effects.”
“We have thirty years of research showing us that it’s inert,” Brackin said. “In fact it can have a positive impact — it results in more fresh water.”
Despite the controversy, WMI has continued to grow since its foundation in the 60’s. They are currently working in places like the National Forests in Wyoming, India, Greece, West Africa and other places around the world, Brackin said.
WMI chairman of the board Patrick Sweeney and his brother, executive vice president Jim Sweeney, also started the fixed-base operator Fargo Jet Center as a way to supply planes and pilot training for WMI as well. In Kindred, North Dakota, they have also built up Ice Crystal Engineering (ICE), a company that manufactures the materials used for cloud-seeding. With these two companies under wing, WMI is able to fully sustain themselves and the countries where they operate using all their own resources
Today, WMI claims to be the world’s largest private aerial cloud-seeding company. And it’s based right here in Fargo, North Dakota.
“There is no limit to what you can do here,” Brackin said, adding that partnerships with the Department of Commerce and University of North Dakota have aided in the company’s growth over the years.
At the core of the company growth is the team that has established since the early days in Bowman, Brackin said. The core is made up of pilots and meteorologists who have been working in the field for decades. Brackin himself, after interning with WMI, went on to fly a total of 9500 flight hours as a pilot including five years of operational cloud seeding.
He joined WMI a little under a year ago as president and plans to use the first two years to establish the company on a global scale. In China, it’s already working.
“Here in China — I’m meeting with regional meteorological organizations — the majority of them know about WMI,” Brackin said. “It’s an exciting time for us to be in this position.”
Brackin will be speaking about Weather Modification Inc. at the State of Technology on August 16, hosted by the Fargo-Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. Learn more here.