Rainmaker, Rainmaker Make Us Some Rain…

MargaretBrownley-headerThe success of a rain dance has a lot to do with timing


As you may have heard California is going through a terrible drought. Most of my neighbors have either let their lawns die or replaced them with artificial turf. Others have simply come up with a way of stealing water. Yep, that’s right; we now have water thieves to contend with.

grassMy husband came up with yet another solution; he simply painted our grass green (see before and after photo). Yep, there’s actually grass paint that you can spray on and it works!

Watching all this craziness around me made me wonder about droughts in the past. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have grass paint back in the 1800s.

For many years people believed that cloudbursts were caused by noise. Plutarch was the first to note that a rainstorm followed every great battle. He thought it was nature’s way of purifying the ground after bloodshed.

He wasn’t the only one who believed in the “concussion theory of rainmaking;” Napoleon was among the many military leaders convinced that artillery fire caused rain. After losing the battle of Waterloo due to the muddy battleground, he came up with the strategy of firing weapons in the air in hopes that a deluge would disable the enemy.

Amazingly, more than 150 major civil war battles were followed by rainstorms. Witnessing the rain that fell after the battle of Bull Run, J.C. Lewis blamed it on the “discharge of heavy artillery.”

Not everybody agreed that rain was generated by blasts. Meteorologist James Pollard Espy, known as thecannon Storm King, insisted it wasn’t the noise, but rather the heat of battle that opened the clouds. To prove his theory he asked that he be allowed to set a 600 mile stretch of land on fire. Congress turned down his request.

Heat or noise, no one really knew for sure. Brigadier General Robert Dyrenforth decided to settle the matter once and for all by conducting a series of rain-making experiments in Texas. He used artillery and balloon-carrying explosives. Instead of rain, he set a series of prairie fires and was given the name Dry-Henchforth.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the west was going through another drought and water wars raged. It was the perfect environment for a former sewing machine salesman by the name of Charles Hatfield aka Robin Hood of the Clouds.

      Hatfield’s Rain Tower

Offering his services to farmers he built high towers and released a chemical concoction he created. Because of clever timing he had some initial success, which is why the city of San Diego hired him. In 1916 he climbed his newly built tower and tossed his chemicals into the air.

Lo and behold, the sky opened up dumping thirty-five inches of rain on the city and causing a tremendous amount of damage. The city wanted Hatfield to take responsibility for what was called the Hatfield flood, but he refused, claiming it was an act of God. When the city failed to pay him his $10,000, he sued, but after twenty-two years the case was finally thrown out of court.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how to summon rain and so far their efforts have met with little success. Maybe it’s time to bring out the cannons.

So which rain theory makes the most sense to you?

Noise or heat?



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20 thoughts on “Rainmaker, Rainmaker Make Us Some Rain…”

  1. I don’t know if I could agree with either theory. We have extreme heat right now and I keep wishing for rain. Hopefully California starts getting some rain soon. Here in Texas, we have had severe droughts for the last few years. We finally got out of drought stage when we had rain every day for the entire month of May. It caused a lot of flooding and damage in different areas of the state.

  2. Hi Janine, I saw your floods on the news. I’m expecting the same thing to happen to California. I’m not sure about the theory either. On the other hand, it usually rains after thunder and lightning which produces both heat and noise, so maybe it’s a combination of both.

  3. The Great Chicago Fire was followed by rain (after the fire had mostly burned itself out). So one would suppose heat caused it. But then, fire actually makes noise, and that much fire at one time . . . I’m not sure that Mr. Espy could have proven heat over noise with a giant wildfire, if everything one hears of the roar is true. But then, I have no experience with anything larger than a controlled spring burn.

    • Rachel, you made a good point. A fire does roar. I’d forgotten about the rain following the Great Chicago Fire. I also read that during the first Gulf war the burning oil rigs caused it to rain.

  4. I have never been to california but some tell me its partly a desert state so I don’t think heat or noise causes rain there but that it rains only a certain time of the year. Here in Nebraska its the humidity that causes the storms here.

    • Hi Kim, yes, it is a desert state, but we treat it like an Eastern state by planting lush lawns and gardens and these all require water. We do have humidity but not much. I hope a trip to California is on your bucket list. It’s a great state even without the rain.

  5. Hi Margaret,

    Your hubby is very inventive. I never heard of painting your grass!! We are among the ones letting the grass die, in hopes that someday rain will bring it back to life! Interesting story about the rainmakers. Did you ever see the Burt Lancaster movie, The Rainmaker? It’s an old classic.

    • Hi Charlene, never saw that Rainmaker. The one that comes to mind is Matt Damon’s movie,but that was based on a Grisham book. I’ve been looking for something to rent and since I have a rainmaker character in my current project I’ll order it–thanks!

      Good luck with your grass!

  6. Drought is a terrible thing and extreme heat is too. Texas had a great deal of rain earlier this year but when it stopped, it stopped! Mother Nature is one thing, among many, that we have absolutely no control over.

    Thank you, Margaret, for your great post!

  7. My answer is that GOD controls our weather and it will rain when HE wills it to. And stop when HE wills. All of those big shots can only blame everything on climate control but they are not GOD. This was interesting tho. Maxie

  8. I’ve nearly forgotten what the sun looks like. Here in Eastern part of Finland all summer has been cloudy and rainy.

    I just saw this documentary series, about how volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and the weather can affect on each other and what affect our actions seem to have on those things. I don’t think Charles Hatfield was mentioned, but it seems that for instance the Chinese routinely try to affect the weather (make it rain in one place or make sure it doesn’t rain in another place), but it’s a risky business, because what we know about these things is just the tip of the iceberg.

  9. I’m more inclined to think if anything affected the weather, it was the dust, smoke and haze of battle over a large area. During the “Little Ice Age” and after, the years that were known as years without summers were those following volcano eruptions where ash spread in the upper atmosphere and blocked the sun. I know the heat from a valley floor rising, especially up the sides of mountains, will prompt thunderstorms. Fires set and gunpowder explosions of battles might contribute that kind of phenomenon. The years 1940-45 were known as a “little ice age” due to the colder than usual weather and overcast skies. I always wondered if there was a connection between that an battle activity. Thanks for the info on the Civil War. That was new to me.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

    • Hi Robyn (You have the same name and spelling as my daughter), you make an interesting point. I didn’t know about the “little ice age” during World War two. Thank you for sharing.

  10. For there to be rain, there has to be moisture in the air. No matter how hot it is or how noisy, if there is no moisture there will be no rain. I would think that if there is moisture, the addition of smoke or something with fine particles would give the water someplace to gather on, eventually getting big enough to fall as rain.

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