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Donna Henes

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April Showers: How to Make Rain

Posted: 04/14/11 06:23 PM ET

Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water. Oceans, rivers, ponds, streams, lakes, falls, glaciers and seas run like veins through a living body, carrying refreshment and nutrients to all its parts. And we, children of this earth, mimic its makeup in our own bodies, of which water makes up nearly 80 percent. Deprived of adequate water, we quickly become dehydrated -- a state that we can survive for only a very few days.

Despite the fact that our planet is composed of more than two-thirds water, usable water is not necessarily readily available. Most of Earth's water is in the seas and marshes -- too salty to be potable. Or it is frozen solid, locked in ice. Fresh surface and ground water, replaceable only by rain, represents a tiny fraction, only, unbelievably, 2.8 percent of the world's total water supply! It was not much of an exaggeration for Coleridge to write, "Water, water, everywhere. Nor any drop to drink."

Rain, the vital fluid, which flows down from the heavens to replenish the water stores, is quite quirky. You never know with rain. Too much, too little, too late, too soon, too hard. You can't really depend on it. And yet you have to: because rain determines the growth of the crops and the grazing grasses, it is important to be able to make predictions in order to be able to plan.

Our earliest ancestors watched the skies carefully for clues as to what they might expect from the elements. Especially talented weather specialists emerged. Of all their considerable skills, the art of rain-making reigned supreme. It is a great and honored person who can regulate the water supply and in so doing guarantee a fertile growing season.

Throughout Africa, the authority of tribal chiefs rested upon their proven capability as weather tellers; and their popularity depended on their success as weather intercessors. In ancient Mexico, the Aztec ruler swore at his coronation to be responsible for the sun shining, the clouds offering rain, the rivers flowing and the earth offering up abundance. In old Egypt the priest-kings were blamed for crop failure. If the chief of the Latuka, who lived along the Upper Nile, failed to draw down rain, he was attacked by night, robbed, banished and sometimes killed.

The most common means for procuring precipitation is through imitative, homeopathic magic. That is, if you want rain, simulate rainfall. In Russian villages, when rain was needed, three men would climb up into fir trees. The first would bang on pots and pans, making thunder. The second would knock together firebrands and make lightening sparks. And the third, who was called the rainmaker, used a bunch of twigs to sprinkle water from a jug down to the ground.

A weather wizard in New Guinea makes showers by dipping a bough of a sacred tree into a vessel of water and shaking droplets all over. In times of drought, members of the Buffalo Society of the Omaha Peoples of North America filled a large container with water, which was then overturned, making the earth muddy, whereupon they all dropped down to drink the water from the ground and spray it from their mouths. This saves the wilting corn.

During prolonged dry spells in Java, two men would thrash each other until blood was drawn and flowed down their backs. The streaming blood represented rain. The people of Abyssinia used to engage in bloody conflicts -- village against village -- for weeks in the hopes of attracting a good downpour.

In 1893, a particularly gruesome blood-letting ritual for rain was proposed in an article printed in the Boston Globe. It was suggested that in the course of 12 hours of fighting, one soldier would sweat six gallons of wetness. Multiply that by 1,000 young men and you have enough moisture to charge the atmosphere and force it to rain. It's a good thing they didn't try it, because it wouldn't have worked anyway. It would take 33 million gallons of water for even a very small thunderstorm. As many as 100,000 soldiers perspiring together on the battlefield for a day could create only 600,000 gallons. Not nearly enough.

In recent times, we have become quite accomplished in weather modification. Today we know how to make it rain. And snow, as well, for that matter. Cloud seeding is as simple as sitting in the cabin of a small plane and tossing out handsful of finely ground ice crystals into the clouds. Hey, we even know how to make acid rain! What comes out of the clouds these days could kill you.

"Just a little rain.
Just a little rain.
What have they done to the rain?"

--The Searchers, 1969

 
 
 

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