Question: In the 1960s there was a cloud seeding experiment in the Kings River drainage. What were the results and was it discontinued?
— Rod Robinson, Fresno
Answer: The ongoing cloud-seeding program began in 1954 when the Kings River Conservation District hired the Weather Modification Co. to increase rainfall and snowfall in the Kings River watershed.
A 1956 story in The Bee said cloud seeding was used to coax rain or snow from clouds over the Valley instead of “hundreds of miles inland.”
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The cloud-seeding process uses ground generators and airplanes to spread silver iodide particles, which cause storm clouds to drop rain or snow.
When silver iodide particles reach moisture-laden air, the story said, “they attract the droplets of moisture, forming larger and larger drops until they begin to fall because of their weight.”
In the late 1950s, Weather Modification Co. meteorologists used radar, pencils, slide rules, short wave radios and land-line telephones to coordinate cloud-seeding operations. The company installed 16 generators in the Sierra Nevada.
According to Bee stories in 1956 and 1957, Weather Modification said its cloud-seeding efforts resulted in around 135,000 additional acre-feet of rainfall in the Kings River watershed each year. In 1959, Kings River Conservation directors extended Weather Modification’s contract for another year.
According to Cristel Tufenkjian, spokeswoman for the Kings River Conservation District, cloud seeding is still done successfully today with a different company. However, the program does not operate during years with above-average rainfall, she said.
Tufenkjian cited a study of cloud seeding in the watershed from 1954-74 that estimated an average increase of 93,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot of water contains approximately 325,000 gallons, enough for a typical family of four for a year.
Other sponsors of the conservation district’s program are the Kings River Water Association, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the California Department of Water Resources.
Q: I remember as a kid going to the Texas picnics at Roeding Park. There might have been other state picnics too. Can you give me more information on these?
— Glenn Durst, Oakhurst
A: Picnic reunions of people from other states living in the Fresno area were held at least from the early 1930s to 1970, according to old newspaper clippings. Former residents of Texas as well as people from Oklahoma, South Dakota and Ohio held picnics in Roeding Park.
One of the early Texas picnics was held in June 1934. Typically, people attending the picnics brought their own lunches and coffee was served. Like at most reunions, people enjoyed visiting, but organized programs often included a speaker, music and games.
The picnics sometimes included contests. At the Texas picnic in 1938, prizes were given for the “best cake and pie.” In 1948, the Texas picnic featured a contest recognizing the oldest person in attendance and the person who had traveled the farthest to attend.
The picnics were typically hosted by state associations, some of which still exist today.
More about: After an item about Thorburn Park in Clovis was published on April 26, Kirk Thorburn of Sanger, son of Jack and Margaret Thorburn, for whom the park is named, wrote to share memories of growing up on the homestead.
“Mr. Dawson may have planted the trees around the house, but with the exception of a couple of Valley oaks and cottonwoods, I don’t remember any native (trees),” he wrote.
“My chores included many weekends of raking needles from deodar cedars and pruning date palms. There were also a huge silk oak, two coast redwoods, a camphor, two magnolias and multiple olive trees around the house.
“My mom was a founding member of the Kings River Conservancy and served as president until 2010. I thought she was president for life.”
Thorburn recalled his mother’s account of how the park came to be after the farmland was sold to a developer who planned a subdivision. His mother said she and his father “sold the property with the requirement of a park written into the sale. The developer then sold the property, but left that part out of the new sale.”
When construction began, Thorburn’s mother “discovered there were no plans for the park and invaded the planning department in (Clovis) City Hall. They told her they didn’t think there was much they could do, but evidently it was better to anger a developer than to face my mother again.”
Also: A complete collection of Ask Me columns is now available at the San Joaquin Valley Heritage and Genealogy Center, which is upstairs in the downtown branch of the Fresno County Public Library.
Longtime library volunteer Susan Pappas, with assistance from librarian Melissa Scroggins and other library staff, compiled the four-volume set. Pappas worked diligently on the project for nearly two years.
All the questions and answers in Ask Me from March 22, 2007, through March 22, 2015, are categorized and listed alphabetically in a detailed index in the front of Volume One. Scroggins said a fifth volume will be compiled.