Recent studies from the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE) demonstrated definitive radar evidence of seeding signatures in winter orographic clouds during three intensive operation periods (IOPs) where the background signal from natural precipitation was weak and a radar signal attributable to seeding could be identified as traceable seeding lines. Except for the three IOPs where seeding was detected, background natural snowfall was present during seeding operations and no clear seeding signatures were detected. This paper provides a quantitative analysis to assess if orographic cloud seeding effects are detectable using radar when background precipitation is present. We show that a 5-dB change in equivalent reflectivity factor
Operational glaciogenic seeding programs targeting wintertime orographic clouds are funded by a range of stakeholders to increase snowpack. Glaciogenic seeding signatures have been observed by radar when natural background snowfall is weak but never when heavy background precipitation was present. This analysis quantitatively shows that seeding effects will be undetectable using radar reflectivity under conditions of background snowfall unless the background snowfall is weak, and the seeding effects are large. It therefore remains uncertain whether seeding had no effect on cloud microstructure, and therefore produced no signature on radar, or whether seeding did have an effect, but that effect was undetectable against the background reflectivity associated with naturally produced precipitation. Alternative assessment methods such as trace element analysis in snow, aircraft measurements, precipitation measurements, and modeling should be used to determine the efficacy of orographic cloud seeding when heavy background precipitation is present.