Edit ModuleShow Tags

Front Pages


Published:

(page 1 of 5)

Son of Charles


George Santayana, the great literary philosopher from the early years of the past century, once wrote: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Perhaps San Diego city officials should take note. San Diego Magazine has learned that the city water department, desperate to fill thirsty reservoirs, is ready to spend $230,000 on a “weather modification” project that, according to the official description, is designed “to augment natural precipitation and runoff over a 300- to 500-mile target watershed area, primarily located within the boundaries of the Cleveland National Forest.”

The city had been prepared to spend $200,000; the sole applicant, a cloud-seeding operation known as Atmospherics Inc., came in with a bid of $230,000. Water department spokesperson Tedi Jackson says because the project falls below the $250,000 threshold, city council approval is not needed. Water department officials, she says, hope to fast-track the program so that work could start as early as April.

“We're coming off the driest year on record, and I think everybody is concerned,” Jackson says. “It's a pressing issue. We need water, and our reservoirs are really low—one is down to just 9 percent of capacity. I guess it's kind of like hiring a rainmaker.”

She pauses, then adds, “I mean, it's not quite like Charles Hatfield.”

Ah, yes, Charles Hatfield. The year was 1912, and San Diego, just as it is today, was suffering through a terrible drought. Local realtor Fred Binney, on behalf of the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, sent an urgent letter to the city council: “The Morena Dam reservoir is barely one-third full, and the city's growth hinges on an ample water supply,” he wrote. “We think the council should consider hiring Charles M. Hatfield to make some rainfall.”

Three hot, dry, sticky years later, the council did hire Hatfield, a folk hero of sorts who billed himself as a professional “moisture accelerator.” For more than a decade, ever since he first began experimenting with chemicals and “evaporating tanks” at his father's ranch near Oceanside, Hatfield had fulfilled hundreds of rainmaking contracts from Los Angeles all the way up to the Central and San Joaqin valleys. (A movie, The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn, was loosely based on Hatfield's story.) Hatfield's contract called for him to produce up to 40 inches of rain for free, and then charge $1,000 per inch for anything between 40 and 50 inches. In December 1915, Hatfield built a tower next to Morena Dam, 60 miles east of San Diego, and set up his apparatus. Smoke and fumes could be seen wafting upward; then, on January 10, 1916, it rained. Hard.

It kept raining, for days, for weeks. Mission Valley was flooded. Bridges washed away. Dams ruptured. Hatfield and his brother came to San Diego to survey the damage, and when they saw the extent of the flooding, they identified themselves as the Benson brothers out of fear someone might hurt them. The city refused to pay Hatfield. He sued. The case continued in the courts until 1938, when it was dropped after a judge ruled the rain was an act of God, not an act of Hatfield.

Fast-forward: Atmospherics' cloud-seeding approach involves using chemicals such as salt crystals to accelerate the “warm rain” process or ice nuclei (silver iodide or dry ice) to supply naturally deficient clouds with the proper concentration of ice crystals to increase rainfall through the “cold rain” process. The clouds are seeded using airplanes.

Atmospherics worked for San Diego once before, in the drought of the early 1990s. The water department's Jackson says that, just as with the Hatfield case, the rainmaking attempt ended with a deluge, but to this day no one's sure what effect, if any, Atmospherics had. It was, after all, El Niño season.

“We don't have all the data on that, and I don't know if we ever will,” Jackson says. “It's a hard thing to quantify—but there was rainfall.”
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

2015 Padres Spring Training: 9 Things Fans Should Know

Your guide to this season in Arizona, March 4 to April 3

Women Marines Association Celebrate 72 Years Of Women

San Diego Charity News for February 23

Q&A: Local Fashion Blogger Chosen as New York Fashion Week Correspondent

New York Fashion Week kicks off today, and San Diego fashion blogger Lauren Marron is heading to the shows
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. 27 Reasons to Love San Diego
    Our annual list of all things San Diego and rad—from kiteboarding to urban farming to a city-wide book club
  2. San Diego New Year’s Eve Guide
    Ring in 2015 at these parties, concerts, dining, and family-friendly events
  3. 25 BIG Ideas
    Fascinating San Diego people inspire us with big, bold ideas on everything from genomics to urban planning, art to architecture, food and more
  4. About that story we "stole"...
    8 things to ask yourself before you accuse a publication of stealing your stuff and barf all over their beautiful Facebook page
  5. Get Fit & Have Fun in San Diego
    From doggie bootcamps to intense bodybuilding programs, it’s an exciting time to get in shape. What are you waiting for?
  6. I Tried It: The New Jazzercise
    When I hear the word “Jazzercise,” neon leotards, leg warmers, headbands, and old ladies come to mind
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.

La Jolla Music Society Events

The La Jolla Music Society's 2015 Calendar
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

'Tis The Season

Winter in the desert cities

100 Works of Art to See Before You Die in San Diego

Local art critics, museum directors, and the big kahunas of the art world picked their must-see paintings, sculptures, and buildings with a special checklist just for you
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags