rainmaking, production of rain by artificial means now generally disregarded, though it is probable that rainmaking hastens or increases rainfall from clouds suitable for natural rainfall. Interest in rainmaking has been spurred by factors including drought and the need for irrigation water. Until recent times it was thought that rain might be induced by explosions, updrafts from fires, or by giving the atmosphere a negative charge. Research during the 1930s showed that rain forms in warm clouds when larger drops of condensed water grow at the expense of smaller ones until they are big enough to fall; also that in cold clouds supercooled water below 5°F; (-15°C;) freezes into ice crystals that act as nuclei for snow. On this basis the American physical chemist Irving Langmuir and his associates carried on Project Cirrus from 1940 to 1952 to find ways to produce rain. Three methods resulted, including spraying water into warm clouds; dropping dry ice into cold clouds, where the dry ice freezes some water into ice crystals that act as natural nuclei for snow; and wafting silver iodide crystals or other similar crystals into a cold cloud from the ground or from an airplane over the cloud, with the crystals hastening the freezing of supercooled water between 27°F; (-2.8°C;) and 5°F;. Overseeding can dissipate a cloud. These techniques are only moderately successful; they cannot be relied upon in case of drought.

See Utah Water Research Laboratory, Development of Cold Cloud Seeding Technology for Use in Precipitation Management (1971); L. J. Battan, Cloud Physics and Cloud Seeding (1979).

Rainmaking refers to the act of attempting to artificially induce or increase precipitation, usually to stave off drought. It takes two basic forms:

  • In the US, rainmaking was attempted by traveling showmen. It was practiced in the old west but may have reached a peak during the dust bowl/drought of the American West and Midwest in the 1930s. The practice was depicted in the 1956 film The Rainmaker. The attempt to bring rain directly has waned with development of the science of meteorology, the advent of laws against fraud and increased communication technology. However many Americans, well-educated and not, still attempt to bring rain during droughts through prayer, a phenomenon particularly common in US farming regions.
  • In other societies, rain dances and other rituals have similarly been attempted supernaturally to increase rainfall. Though there is no scientific basis for the belief that this worked, the rituals persist, with the Romanian ceremony known as paparuda - and many others across the world - continuing to the present day. These rituals in America and beyond differ greatly in their specifics, but share a common concern with bringing rain through ritual and/or spiritual means.
  • Since the 1940s, cloud seeding has been used to change the structure of clouds by dispersing substances into the air, potentially increasing or altering rainfall.
  • Operation Popeye was a US military rainmaking operation to increase rains over Vietnam during the Vietnam War in order to slow Vietnamese military truck activity in the region.

See also: cloud-buster.

The term is also used metaphorically to describe the process of bringing new clients into a professional practice such as law, architecture or consulting.


Sanders, Todd 2008. Beyond Bodies: Rainmaking and Sense Making in Tanzania. Toronto, University of Toronto Press

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