There has been some controversy in recent years about making rain artificially. An inch of rain on the prairies, when it is needed, is worth a million dollars. It can make all the difference between a good or bad wheat crop, and in providing better feed for beef cattle.
A most colourful and exciting experiment was conducted in Alberta in 1921. The Medicine Hat United Agricultural Association decided that a “rain-maker” would be good crop insurance, and signed up Charles M. Hatfield of California, who was said to be “a rain-making wizard.” The contract ran from May 1 to August 1, and gave Hatfield the credit for half the rain that fell during that period, at a rate of $4,000 per inch. The maximum he could be paid was $8,000.
Hatfield did not claim to be able to make rain, but said he could offer nature certain aids. Eight thousand farmers each subscribed one dollar to see him do it. The area was within a 100-mile radius of Chappice Lake, which is about 20 miles north east of Medicine Hat. Gauges for measuring the rainfall were distributed at intervals of 50 miles.
What excitement there was when Hatfield built a 20-foot tower by the lake! It had an open vat on top, into which he poured secret chemicals, like a witch’s brew. People watched anxiously, or placed bets to see if distant clouds would be drawn into the area. Nothing happened for three days, and then came nearly half an inch of beautiful rain! Two days later even more rain fell, and again on May 11th. Now the farmers were becoming apprehensive! Let’s not overdo this thing! Too much would be almost as bad as too little. Some of them asked Hatfield to quit for a while.
The story was different in June. Hatfield said that Chinook winds were blowing the clouds away. People began to watch him with field glasses to make sure that he was on the job. Prayer meetings were held for rain, and a whole inch fell towards the end of the month. Even the rain-maker seemed greatly relieved!
The story was the same in July when the temperature was often 90 degrees F in the shade. Then, near the end of the month, came one of those million-dollar rains, all the way from Winnipeg to the Rockies. The people of Medicine Hat were paying for it, but they didn’t mind. In fact, they tried to get Hatfield to come back the next year, but he had had enough. He was so relieved when the rain came in July that he would not accept more than $5,000 for his services. Swift Current offered him $10,000 to work there for the next year, but he rejected it.
In Ontario, where rain falls more easily, the chief of the Dominion Meteorological Bureau described the experiment as “the most absurd thing ever perpetrated in the West.”
The average rainfall for May, June and July in the Medicine Hat area had been 6.22 inches for 37 years! Still, who can be sure what would have happened in the summer of 1921 if Hatfield had not been there?
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