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Make It Rain…or Not: South Dakota Repealing Rainmaker Rules

Last updated on 2012.01.08

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!


  1. Chris S. 2012.01.08

    Bonus points for the KLF musical reference.

  2. Douglas Wiken 2012.01.08

    I haven't been able to find the actual Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, but below is a description.
    "Remember that Gary Larson cartoon where you see an Indian medicine man standing there with the air filled with falling egg-beaters? He says something like: "Oh, right. It wasn't three steps forward and one to the left. It was two forward, one to the right and then one to the left."

  3. larry kurtz 2012.01.08

    I didn't know the NaCl story, Cory. Thank you.

  4. Donald Pay 2012.01.08

    It looks like sections 29 through the end of the bill affect solid waste management planning, which is one way SD has to control waste dumping. I believe the state bureaucracy has violated these statutes and allowed municipalities to violate them by failing to carry out the planning requirements, so the response is to gut the planning requirements. Typical.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.01.08

    Indeed, Donald! I wanted to get the silly part of the bill out of the way first. The rest of the bill's strikes are worth reading and perhaps fretting over!

  6. larry kurtz 2012.01.13

    70s forecast for South Padre Island. Margaritas, anyone?

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