April Fools' story: Improving the Weather in South Wales

In response to student feedback, the University is planning to pioneer microclimate change technologies to reduce the rainfall experienced around our campuses.

Weather for Ducks - soon to be history?

Microclimate Change

Thanks to the hills in South Wales, which cause rain to fall here, there is little water left in those clouds which reach England. That is why Wales is sometimes called “the umbrella of England”.

The problem: it rains too much in South Wales. This can cause flooding, weather related illnesses and moodiness, and it harms the tourism industry and student recruitment.

The solution: human intervention to change our microclimate. We will use a pioneering threefold approach.

Green Area = Aerodynamic Terrain Simulation (see “Artificial Mountains” below)
Blue Area = Cloud Seeding / Induced Rain
Red Area = Target for Reduction of Rainfall

1. Cloud Seeding over the Bristol Channel

plane jettisoning a substance - photo by Julian Bleecker Cloud seeding is an emerging technology that can create clouds and, more importantly, make them rain. To do so, salt and other substances are dispersed from aircraft.

To avoid rainfall over South East Wales (where our campuses are), the University will trigger rainfall to the west of us, so the clouds will be empty by the time they get here. This strategy would be used on days which meet all of the following criteria:

  • Prediction of rainfall over South Wales
  • Predictions that suggest the rain can be averted or measurably hampered by cloud seeding
  • It’s on a useful day for the University

The University will prioritise dates of strategic importance, such as USW Open Days, Graduation Days, Six Nations games at the Millennium Stadium, and sponsored days (a price plan for sponsorship will be announced soon), as well as Open Days at competing institutions within the rainfall relocation crescent.

Of course, cloud seeding would relocate the rainfall, rather than remove it. Fortunately, the Bristol Channel would bear the brunt of this. While it is true that South West Wales / the Swansea area will experience more rain through this scheme, this is an acceptable drawback – Cardiff and the South East Wales region are of greater strategic priority.

2. Artificial Mountains

The most effective natural causes of rainfall are mountains. As it’s not feasible to raise a new landmass in the Bristol Channel, the proposed alternative is to create an aerodynamic simulation of mountains instead.

The University is working with energy producers on a project to build an innovative off-shore wind farm. Unlike regular wind farms, this one will not just harvest energy, but also include motorised fans. On days with suitable conditions, some of the energy produced by the wind turbines will be used to power these fans, which will be directed against the prevailing wind and upwards – creating aerodynamic effects similar to those of mountains. This will assist in early cloud formation and cause the clouds to rain before they reach us.

Wind farm - photo by Vattenfall

3. Counteracting Confirmation Bias

Some myths have arisen about the climate in South Wales. “As soon as you cross the Severn, the weather changes” is one. “Take the train from Cardiff to Treforest, and it’ll start raining as soon as you reach Treforest” is another. Obviously, neither is true on most days. But confirmation bias means that, on the rare occasion when the stereotypes turn out to match reality, people notice this and remember it, thereby fortifying their own misconceptions.

Severn Bridge - photo by Christopher Bowley

In order to improve the reputation of the Welsh weather, the University is working with the Assembly Government, Network Rail, Arriva Trains Wales and other stakeholders to counteract confirmation bias. Current plans include

  • Prominent digital displays at the toll points on the Severn Bridge, which will show animated messages when the weather is no worse in Wales than in England.
  • Recorded announcements to be played in trains when they emerge from the Severn Tunnel, and trains approaching Treforest, to draw attention to the weather when it is not raining.
  • Additional digital signage on the A470 to point out when the weather in Treforest matches the weather in Cardiff
  • At times when it rains in Wales but not in South West England, the bridge toll booths will temporarily shut down and the signals inside the rail tunnel will go to red, stopping all trains. The delay will cause people to perceive the weather change as being linked to time, rather than place.

Get Involved!

There will be opportunities for students to get involved in this project, gaining valuable work and research experience.

  • Check UniLife Connect regularly to see opportunities for student involvement when they arise.
  • The cloud seeding aircraft will be maintained by Aircraft Maintenance Engineering students (under supervision)
  • Cloud-seeding drones will be designed and built by research students
  • Students will have an opportunity to work for the new spinout company “Good Weather Days” – which will offer local stakeholders the opportunity to sponsor a day of reduced rainfall. It is anticipated this will appeal to events organisers, tourist businesses and the Welsh Government.
  • While these projects would relocate rain to the west, the University is also undertaking research and feasibility studies into schemes that would delay rainfall and relocate the rain to our east, as this would be a much preferred solution.

Please see Wikipedia for further information.