Will There Be Snow in Moscow This Winter?

Not if the mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov has his way. According to Simon Shuster at TIME magazine,

For just a few million dollars, the mayor’s office will hire the Russian Air Force to spray a fine chemical mist over the clouds before they reach the capital, forcing them to dump their snow outside the city. Authorities say this will be a boon for Moscow, which is typically covered with a blanket of snow from November to March. Road crews won’t need to constantly clear the streets, and traffic — and quality of life — will undoubtedly improve.

Luzhkov’s plan raises fascinating scientific, economic, and ethical questions.

The first question is will the plan work? As we note in SuperFreakonomics, cloud-seeding has a long history, dating at least back to the late 1940’s when three General Electric employees had some success with putting silver iodide into clouds. One of those scientists was named Bernard Vonnegut. The public relations manager on the project was his little brother, Kurt, who eventually went on to write some books. Nonetheless, controlling the weather is no easy task.

From an economic perspective, the plan highlights what economists call externalities, i.e., when one party’s actions impose costs on another party without that second party’s permission. The article suggests that much of the snow that would have fallen on Moscow will instead end up in Moscow’s suburbs.

From an efficiency perspective, it probably does make sense to move snow out of very densely populated areas with a great deal of vehicle traffic. The extra snow will make life harder for snowbound suburbanites, however. One solution would be to have Moscow compensate the suburban residents for the extra snow. Alternatively, if it turned out that the costs to the suburb dwellers exceeded the benefits to the Muscovites (and if transaction/coordination costs were small enough), the suburbs could band together and pay Moscow (or maybe it would be cheaper to simply bribe Luzhkov directly) not to carry out the plan. Or maybe the Russian Air Force is skilled enough to make the snow fall in places where no one lives.

From an ethical perspective, the plan raises many of the same issues that the world will likely face as geoengineering comes to the forefront. No doubt, the idea of human intervention to influence where snow falls will strike many as repugnant. I wonder if the same set of emotions were present when rivers were being dammed or land was being reclaimed from the sea in places like the Netherlands? Or is this a uniquely modern reaction?

Certainly, repugnance over affecting local environments is context-specific. When I was growing up in Minneapolis, the local government implemented some technological solutions that dramatically reduced the number of mosquitoes in the city. Our backyard, which up until that time had been too mosquito-infested to use, became my favorite place to practice my golf game. I can’t remember anyone ever complaining about that particular application of technology, except my mother, and that was only because I ruined the grass in the backyard by taking so many divots.

Ian Kemmish

Presumably the trick is to live in a suburb adjoining a highway running between the centre and the compounds where the more favoured oligarchs have their dachas....

Will C

I don't understand why they wouldn't seed the clouds to dump the snow before it reaches the suburbs.


If there's any military that I trust to spray chemicals from combat aircraft over civilian areas, it's the Russian military.

According to the Russian air force maps, which direction is Chechnya and Ukraine from Moscow?


What about the hydrological effects? All that snow has to melt in the spring and then it starts flowing. What could possibly go wrong there?


Here's another solution: Don't build your capital someplace that snows so much if you don't want to deal with it!

If you don't want to deal with hurricanes, don't live near the ocean. If you don't want to deal with wild fires, don't live in So. Cal.

@ Will C: That would be a larger area, thus require more seeding material, fuel, etc. == more rubles.


Some of this mayor's past disasters with attempts to modify nature are pretty amusing:


Does no snow, mean no rain as well. What will the effect be on the water table in Moscow? Also will this change growing cycles in the outlying areas due to a longer thaw? So many things can happen when you change weather patterns.


Not only has the mayor, Luzhkov, proposed this hare-brained scheme, he has promised that he will be successful. I have no reason to call him a liar, except for the fact that no-one has ever really been successful in controlling the weather, and I doubt that he has special access to some new meteorological innovation.

What I find interesting is the fact that this nut can get away with outright lies like this because the media in Russia is so constrained, compared to the western media. If he were a US mayor, the media would tear him apart.


"Here's another solution: Don't build your capital someplace that snows so much if you don't want to deal with it!"-phillipe

can someone get a paypal account for this man? we need to raise funds ASAP so he can offer this sound, reasonable advice to Luzhkov.


Greg, what evidence do you have that he's not telling the truth? Do you have evidence of some time in the past when someone tried doing what he has proposed and it failed?

I see no reason why the mayor would lie about this, especially since winter is fast approaching and even the media won't be able to disguise a blizzard. I also don't think he's going to throw six million dollars at something he knows won't work.


I am amazed at the ignorance presented by people in top political positions in some countries...

There are numerous externalities: tourism, crop cycles if any, suburban towns climate, etc.

Are people more willing to go out, and thus modify their consumption habits and behavior?

I simply think that the snow provides a lot of people with work.



I would be as doubtful as all of you had it not been for their sucessful seeding of radioactive clouds that were heading towards Moscow from Chernobyl with it tragic fallout. I believe it would also best noted that the seeding would not cause it to snow, but instead sleet.


Puny Americans, Controlling the weather over moscow is only step 1 of my plan

steve conn

and so it goes


Didn't King Canute have the same kind of plan for controlling the tide? Luzkhov will likely have about the same degree of success


the same people that believe that unintentional climate change is evil believe intentional climate change is good. yeah right. ever hear of unintended consequences?

Kitt Hirasaki

Old news. This is what they did to turn Napoleon back.

Aaron Giambattista

I don't remember if it was the Moscow mayor, but the 2008 Uefa Champions League Final (Manchester United v. Chelsea) was played in Moscow, and some leading authority (I believe it was the weatherman) promised to seed the clouds to avoid any rain. Rain isn't too conducive to soccer, especially not on artificial fields which normally are not used in Europe, but Moscow has for obvious reasons. Needless to say, it absolutely downpoured the entire match, and during the penalty shootout , Chelsea captain John Terry slipped while taking his shot and cost his team the trophy.

Doc Wheat

Ski Novgorod!

George Clark

"Didn't King Canute have the same kind of plan for controlling the tide? '' wrote number 15. No. In the story (it's just that) when the courtiers of Cnut the powerful (Knutr in riki), king of England and Denmark, flattered him about his exalted power, he's supposed to have commanded them to carry him seated in his throne down to the sea shore. There he ordered the tide not to rise, but it did. Now the courtiers had to carry him and his throne ashore. He's supposed to have rebuked the courtiers for flattering him by exaggerating his power.