HUDDLED inside the old abandoned passenger terminal building at Lumbia airport here, Engr. Jocel Mendoza, her assistant and two Air Force technicians wait for word from “spotters” scattered across Bukidnon that would tell them where to dump their next load of rain-inducing salt.
Mendoza and her team are aware that people have pinned so much hope on their cloud seeding operations because the prolonged drought has left much agricultural lands into dusty bowls.
Hungry farmers have already blocked a major highway in Kidapawan, and the resulting violence killed two of them and many injured in the ensuing clash with the police.
So they sat on plastic chairs on the dilapidated building and anxiously waited for the text messages from the “cloud watchers” that were spread across Bukidnon.
“We are looking for cumulus or cumulonimbus types of clouds. These are the clouds that we can easily induce to rain,” said Mendoza of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Soil and Water Management.
Before noon, Mendoza started receiving a flurry of text messages from the “cloud watchers.”
At least 45 cloud watchers or spotters have underwent a two-day training of the Department of Agriculture in Cagayan de Oro where they learned how to identify the types of clouds in their localities.
The workshop came after the provincial government of Bukidnon declared a state of calamity and sought the help of DA for cloud seeding operations.
The “cloud watchers” take pictures of the clouds using Geo Cam, an app that can be freely downloaded at the Google play store.
The Geo Cam app has key information on the pictures like where, when, how and under what conditions the pictures were taken.
The pictures are then sent to Mendoza and the cloud seeding team via Yahoo Messenger where they are posted on their group chat especially created for the cloud watchers.
When Mendoza received the pictures on her smart phone, she and the two Air Force weather technicians analyzed them carefully.
They tried to match them with other data they received from the station of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) in El Salvador town, Misamis Oriental.
“We match the pictures with the data about humidity, temperature and wind direction that we received from the Pagasa station,” Mendoza said.
After analyzing the pictures, Mendoza and the two Air Force technicians decided the clouds over Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon, “is ripe for seeding.”
They gave the information to the crew of the Baron Beechcraft plane owned by the Royhle Air Way Charter of Dumaguete City which is contracted by the DA to conduct cloud seeding operations in General Santos, Tacurong and Bukidnon since January this year.
Fifteen sacks of salt were loaded to the twin-prop plane and its Indian pilot. Aks Gopal, prepared the aircraft to fly.
The space inside the aircraft is cramped with the big wooden box filled with salt occupying its interior. A duct is manually operated to drop the salt mid-air.
Because of the space considerations, only Gopal, his co-pilot and one of the PAF technicians will board the aircraft. The technician will operate the duct once the cloud seeding starts.
Gopal said flying a plane into a big cloud formation to drop a load or rain-inducing salt is a “risky business.”
“It is like we are trying to defy death so others can eat,” Gopal said.
“But safety is always our main concern. If I do not feel right, I will move away from the clouds,” he added.
Gopal said he will take his plane up to 10,000 feet and “fly beside the clouds” and the drop the load of salt.
He said in Bukidnon, it is dangerous to fly through the clouds because the mountains tower up to 10,000 feet.
“The best altitude to drop the salt is between 8,000 feet to 10,000 feet,” Gopal said.
Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification by introducing salt to the clouds to induce precipitation or rain.
Pagasa-Bukidnon station chief Cesar Caballes said Malaybalay City and the towns of Talakag, Pangantukan, Kibawe and Manolo Fortich have experienced some rain, thanks to the cloud seeding operations.
Caballes said 5.9 millimeters of rain was recorded in these areas last week. He said the normal rainfall for the month of April is about 25 millimeters.
“We need more rain. The farmers in Bukidnon are already reeling because the prolonged drought,” he said.