letter to the editor

Rainmaker Charlie Hatfield

Posted:  Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 8:45am

Dear Editor:

In 1915, the San Diego city council, pressured by the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, decided to hire the “moisture accelerator” Charlie Hatfield to solve a low reservoir problem, only later in 1916 to painfully learn many lessons.

The first lesson turned out to be the most costly lesson — “watch what you wish for.” Every year when the drought temptress looks for a rainmaker, the local papers reprint the Charlie Hatfield story. It took Charlie two runs at his secret method to fill the reservoir, but it cost the city and county a hefty price as the unstoppable heavy storms washed out 200 bridges, took out railroad ties, created erosions of dams causing failure and collapse, wiping out towns, farms, and animals.

Eventually, this generated a lynch mob looking for Charlie Hatfield. San Diego owed Charlie $10,000 for filling the low reservoir, but Charlie declined payment to avoid provable guilt in damage costs. 

Rainmakers can create rains if there are clouds in the sky, have the right chemicals in tall open metal pans providing space for the chemicals to evaporate into clouds. The rest is up to nature and once started there are no methods to stop it, much less control the winds that are nature’s storm partners.  Today San Diego uses lakes to control drought impacts.

In the last four-year drought, the city of Los Angeles took a different approach. They requested residents to change out plants they had in their gardens by eliminating plants needing water and replacing them with plants that required little water to survive. Los Angels paid for the new plants. There were no lynch mobs.

As we have witnessed several severe ocean-driven storms recently, it is good to remember that these begin with formation of clouds driven by winds that gain speed due to warmer temperatures of the ocean. There is no lack of water in oceans. Ocean storms develop when the air temperature in one area is different from another creating a difference in atmospheric pressure.

When there is drought, and an ocean is near, do not hire a rainmaker.

Jarryl Larson