The 1950s must have been an exciting time to be alive. Asimov and Heinlein were leading a golden age of science fiction. The new magic of television set homes aglow with technological wonder. And in South Dakota, the Legislature declared our state's sovereign right to the moisture in the clouds and atmosphere. This declaration was part of Chapter 46-3A, Weather Modification Activities, created in 1953 and modified since to ensure the orderly development of rain-making technology.

Today South Dakotans can obtain a weather modification license from the Water Management Board for $25—upon demonstration, of course, of sufficient meteorological knowledge to keep from hitting the wrong button and making frogs or meatballs fall from the sky. Actually going out to make it rain requires a public hearing, a finding of public interest, and a $100 permit.

One might conclude that Governor M. Michael Rounds and his devout followers committed a Class 2 misdemeanor when the governor called on South Dakotans to pray for rain in 2004 and 2006. SDCL 46-3A-16 exempts "experimental and emergency activities." The only emergencies specified are fire, frost, sleet, and fog, not the droughts the governor fought. However, the Madville Times legal team suggests the governor may appeal to experiment: "We wanted to see if God was listening. It worked... sort of!"

Alas, the Legislature is preparing to strike this bit of 1950s techno-optimism from the books. House Bill 1013 strikes the Weather Modification Activities chapter from the books. The bill is one of several housekeeping rules proposed this year to clear out obsolete statutes.

So if the Water Management Board still has any dusty rainmaker licenses at the back of the file cabinet, they are about to become collectors' items.

Bonus History: Weather modification took a hit in public perception right here in the Black Hills 30 years ago. On June 9, 1972, weather modification researchers at the School of Mines dumped 700 pounds of table salt into a promising band of clouds. High pressure way up by the Hudson Bay held those clouds in place, and they let lose the rains that caused the deadly Rapid City flood. Four years later, the state legislature blocked all state funding for weather modification activities. Whither that 1950s optimism....

Update 2012.01.08 06:28 MST: Europluvilasers! The French and the Germans still have that 1950s spirit: they've built a mobile laser bus that may be able to make rain and direct lightning. HB 1013 shows that Mitt Romney's campaign slogan, "We're becoming like Europe," is bogus!