Hail cannons, lightning rods, elephant repellents, and Texas schools

hail cannon

“What’s the white powder you put on your lawn every week, neighbor?”
“Elephant repellent…works pretty well, doesn’t it?”

I just heard about the hail cannon… a 20-foot tube/sound chamber that makes a huge bang every four seconds, supposedly disrupting hail formation in the sky above. Costs 50,000 bucks…and of course you need a radar system to detect suspicious clouds, and additional cannons every 750 feet or so, and a computer system to control it all, plus the expendables, maintenance, etc…
hail-cannon old
These monstrosities were invented a couple hundred years ago, and are better suited to defending castles a la Monty Python than to preventing hail…there is no scientific basis for them, and no proof that they do anything but enrich those who manufacture and market them. Billy Mays wouldn’t even have touched them. Yet there is an active and even thriving hail cannon industry, in the US and abroad.

A comment:
Anti-science forces in our society, paid for by large multinational corporations interested in preserving profits, have succeeded in slowing our response to tobacco toxicity and global warming/climate change. Smaller business ventures (and politicians and religions) have also traded on ignorance, fear, superstition, and the psychology of uncommon events to “sell” us costly, irrational and often dangerous “products” which supposedly “prevent” rare but calamitous events. The lightning rod immediately comes to mind: a simple yet costly device, somewhat dangerous to install and maintain, which is completely unnecessary for most homes, would likely not work anyway, and may even attract lightning. Yet, the “prudent” sucker purchaser can rightly claim that since the installation of this item, no lightning has struck his home, wrongly attributing that to the rods. In logic, post hoc, ergo propter hoc. If lightning does strike, inevitably some problem will be found with the installation or maintenance, excusing the failure, and reinforcing the need to “upgrade” to an even more expensive product. See Herman Melville, The Lightning Rod Man”:

“Of life-and-death use. But my workman was heedless. In fitting the rod at top to the steeple, he allowed a part of the metal to graze the tin sheeting. Hence the accident. Not my fault, but his.

The propagation of ignorance, as opposed to the dissemination of knowledge, is today a burgeoning activity and a profitable industry. At Stanford University, Prof. Robert Proctor has dubbed it “agnotology” and made it the subject of his research:

A prime example of the deliberate production of ignorance cited by Proctor is the tobacco industry’s conspiracy to manufacture doubt about the cancer risks of tobacco use. Under the banner of science, the industry produced research about everything except tobacco hazards to exploit public uncertainty. Some of the root causes for culturally-induced ignorance are media neglect, corporate or governmental secrecy and suppression, document destruction, and myriad forms of inherent or avoidable culturopolitical selectivity, inattention, and forgetfulness.

How do Texas schools fit in? it seems that Texas may allow their high school students to accumulate 4 credits in sports, out of the 26 required for graduation. This would be a 100% increase from the previous athletic allowance of 2 credits. Yeah, that should help.



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3 responses to “Hail cannons, lightning rods, elephant repellents, and Texas schools

  1. Trav

    Sorry but this post is just a little rhetorical. I assume you have had nothing to do with hail cannons except look at photos and make your own mind up. I have managed an orchard for 7 years and not once have i had hail fall while the cannon was in use yet the area around me has been hit plenty of times. There may not be any scientific evidence because it’s the weather, we have plenty to learn but simply dont have the means but i can give 100% experiencial evidence that they are worth every penny and that’s not the $50k you quoted. Cost of a hail cannon – $10k. Radar provided free by government website and I’ve never heard of a computer being needed to operate it. They can be operated manually or operated via 2-way radio. They use acetylene gas, the same as welders use and cost around $40 an hour whilst in use.

    • Paul

      Just passing through while researching old hail prevention systems for a meteorology class I’m teaching in the spring. Hail cannons were developed based on the theory that hailstones accumulate in undisturbed storm clouds (like ice cubes setting in your freezer). The high-pitch shockwave emitted by the cannon would shake up the air and break up accumulating ice.
      We now know that hailstone formation is associated with very turbulent storms. Strong updrafts repeatedly drive ice crystals up through cold moisture, forming layer after layer of ice around a central seed (like repeatedly dipping a snowball into a bucket of ice water).

      • Trav

        Exactly Paul, the hail is vibrated into water. If there were very large hailstones circulating in the clouds then they would still fall as hail but it will be slushy like snow which i have witnessed.

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