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Weather Modification Inc. Vice President Jim Sweeney holds a device used for cloud seeding before it is retrofitted on a plane to do weather-related work in Saudi Arabia. (Jay Pickthorn/The Forum)

Fargo company tries to make it rain in Saudi Arabia

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Fargo company tries to make it rain in Saudi Arabia
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FARGO - A Fargo company is giving nature a nudge in Saudi Arabia.

Weather Modification can't work miracles by producing rain where's there no possibility of it.

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But the company can increase the chance of rain and the amount of rain that does fall, said Jim Sweeney, company vice president.

"We nudge Mother Nature along," he said.

Weather Modification has worked with the Saudis for more than three years on air quality monitoring, atmospheric research and cloud seeding missions.

Currently, 10 Weather Modification aircraft are active in Saudi Arabia.

The 12 new aircraft - to be modified in Fargo and flown to Saudi Arabia over the next 1½ years - will be operated by the Saudis, replacing the Weather Modification aircraft.

Jim Sweeney described the arrangement as "a technology transfer program."

Weather Modification's alterations to the planes include adding electronic probes and equipment that dispenses rain-boosting chemicals.

"We have developed this project into one of the most comprehensive cloud seeding and research programs in the world today," Patrick Sweeney, company president, said in comments provided by Weather Modification.

He's currently in Saudi Arabia.

Jim Sweeney declined to put a price tag on the project, but said it's the biggest his company has handled.

Saudi Arabia, which now relies heavily on pumped groundwater and desalinization plants, is determined to increase rainfall, according to Weather Modification.

Years of research have shown that weather modification is feasible and effective, Sweeney said.

Ice Crystal Engineering of Kindred, N.D., is providing the cloud seeding flares used in Saudi Arabia.

"We have the fun part," said Jim Gunkelman of Ice Crystal Engineering.

He said his company's work force has grown to 19 from 15 two months ago, in part because of the Saudi project.

Weather Modification was launched in 1961 in Bowman, N.D. It moved in 1993 to Fargo.

Today, Weather Modification - a sister company to the Fargo Jet Center - has more than 50 employees and has worked with more than 35 countries around the world.

About 25 percent of Weather Modification's work is done in the United States, Sweeney said.

"But most of our work is done overseas, and we think this Saudi project can lead to even more international projects for us," he said.

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