Flooding in Lismore in northern NSW.
Disastrous flooding has inundated parts of northern NSW and southeast Queensland. Image by JASON O’BRIEN/AAP IMAGES

Conspiracy claims about NSW and Queensland floods fall flat

Nik Dirga March 10, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Cloud seeding caused record-breaking floods in Queensland and NSW.

OUR VERDICT

False. Cloud seeding is impossible on the scale of the NSW and Queensland floods. A La Nina weather system is the cause.

A conspiracy theorist claims destructive rain and flooding in south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW are the result of man-made weather manipulation from “cloud seeding“.

The claim is false. Weather and cloud-seeding experts say it is impossible for the rain-making technology to work on such a large scale, and the incessant downpours are due to a La Nina weather system – a fact that has been stated publicly by the Bureau of Meteorology.

Heavy rain and flooding in eastern Australia in late February and early March has been some of the worst in decades, resulting in the deaths of at least 20 people, swamping towns and regional centres and destroying infrastructure.

In a YouTube video published on March 2 and shared on Facebook, an interview with a man named Robert Deutsch on the Messages from the Underground channel espouses a theory that Australia’s weather has been manipulated to create a “weather bomb” – misusing an unofficial   meteorological term for a rapid drop in pressure during a storm system.

“Why are they shooting chem bombs off your coast? Why are they having a fireworks display with stuff that’s gonna do damage? When this program could clearly stop this rain. It can. It can cause drought or rain. Geoengineering says it could do so,” Mr Deutsch says (video mark 34 min 30 sec).

He later claims: “This is a weather bomb. … This is weather warfare on the peaceful people of Australia” (video mark 46 min).

Mr Deutsch shows several screenshots of radar images from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, pointing out shapes and patterns in clouds and claiming they are evidence of material being shot into clouds and aircraft activity.

There’s no indication Mr Deutsch has any meteorology qualifications. At the 39 sec mark of the video he states: “I’m a curious character and I like to know science-y things”. At the 2 min 10 sec mark Mr Deutsch states that he is “two classes, that are electives, away from having a Bachelor of Science in Automotive Engineering and Technologies”.

He has been active in “geoengineering” conspiracy websites which claim there is mass man-made weather manipulation, see here and here.

At the 6 min 32 sec mark Mr Deutsch shares on screen a document titled “The Paris Agreement and Climate Geoengineering Governance” that he says is “the governance document … from the Paris Accord, this is from October, 2016”. At the 7 min 6 sec mark he says “this is a United Nations document, CGI paperwork, they do summaries of United Nations documents, put ’em online”. He says at the 7 min 29 sec mark that the document is “not just the smoking gun this is a guide to how to geoengineer a planet”. However the document Mr Deutsch shares is in fact a paper from a Canadian independent thinktank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), not the United Nations. The executive summary of the paper states that it discusses “protecting  human rights in the context of climate change response measures”. The response measures examined are categorised as “climate geoengineering” – defined as manipulating the environment through “technological options in order to counteract the manifestations of climate change”.

“The paper refers to climate geoengineering as “a potentially mainstream policy option” on page 4. It then discusses a number of geoengineering technologies being researched for their ability to reduce climate change effects.”

Multiple posts on Facebook – as seen here, here and here – attempt to link Australia’s floods with cloud seeding and possible government manipulation of the weather.

Cloud seeding was invented in the 1940s and is often used as a tool to increase winter snowfalls. It has been used in Australia intermittently since 1947.

But scientific evidence it can produce large changes in weather patterns has been found lacking or uncertain – see here, here and here.

There has been research into using it to alleviate droughts in the United States, studies into measuring its effectiveness and efforts to increase funding for cloud seeding. There is evidence it can boost snowfall.

However, Steven Siems, a professor at the School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University, says there’s no chance it can cause a massive weather event like the Australian floods.

He told AAP FactCheck the flooding across southeast Queensland and northern NSW was remarkable.

“But it had NOTHING to do with cloud seeding,” he said in an email.

Michael Manton, an emeritus professor at Monash’s School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment, agrees. He says there’s “no way” cloud seeding could produce the flooding.

“Those storms are acting on much larger scales than any cloud seeding activity. Moreover the natural rain-producing processes are clearly operating very effectively,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email

Prof Siems says cloud seeding only works under “very specific conditions”.

“We have confidence that glaciogenic cloud seeding, like what Snowy Hydro undertakes during the winter season, can actually enhance precipitation. We have no compelling evidence that other forms of cloud seeding actually work.”

Prof Manton said cloud seeding “can be effective when the natural processes to form rain are not operating to full capacity”.

“Cloud seeding can then squeeze a little (but valuable) extra rain from those clouds.”

Some online posts also reference a 2008 press release announcing a Queensland cloud seeding research project, including some that omit the original date and make it seem the project is current, rather than ending more than a decade ago.

The results of that study, published in 2010, concluded seeding might not have much of a positive effect on increasing rainfall.

Another video clip recently being shared is of a 7News presenter discussing “strange echoes on the weather radar” and speculating that it could be airplane chaff is actually from September 2021 and has nothing to do with the current weather.

So what actually caused the extreme weather?

The Pacific Ocean is experiencing a La Nina climate period, a weather pattern that pushes warm water westward. In Australia, that means an increased likelihood of cyclones and above-average rainfall.

Meteorologist and TV weather presenter Livio Rigano told AAP FactCheck the recent rain events were “not uncommon in summer, especially late summer”.

“What made it different is that the mechanism that caused the rain sat in one place for a very long time, much longer than it usually would,” he said in an email

Prof Manton also said the weather systems were not unusual, “but their intensity and duration are”.

Mr Rigano said a high pressure system over the Tasman Sea blocked the usual west-to-east movement of the system over Queensland, “so the intense rainfall that normally would only last about a few hours lasted about three days”.

“We always look for reasons to explain weather events but there is a certain amount of randomness in the atmosphere that you can’t escape. Part of it was just bad luck – the thing just happened to park itself on top of (southeast) Queensland.”

The Verdict

Recent heavy rainfall and flooding across NSW and Queensland was not man-made. While cloud seeding technology can be effective in specific, localised situations, experts say there’s no evidence it can manipulate the weather on a massive scale. They told AAP FactCheck a La Nina weather system caused the above-average rainfall.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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