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article imageVolkswagen accused of ruining Mexican crops with 'hail cannons'

By Karen Graham     Aug 24, 2018 in Science
Cuautlancingo - Volkswagen is facing new accusations. But they have nothing to do with cheating on emissions tests. Instead, farmers in Mexico are accusing the car-maker of causing a drought.
The German car-maker has around 15,000 workers at its Puebla factory, which manufactures models that include the Jetta, Beetle, Tiguan, and Golf. The company parks the newly manufactured cars outside the plant on a 150-acre lot.
The problem with local farmers has arisen because Volkswagen is using a controversial and scientifically unproven method to alter the weather, called hail cannons. Farmers in Cuautlancingo, the rural municipality where the plant is located, say the controversial technique is causing a drought that has made them lose 2,000 hectares (nearly 5,000 acres) of crops.
The 'cannons' Volkswagen has been using shoot sonic booms into the air to purportedly prevent hail formation, according to CNN. And farmers say the sonic booms are preventing rain from falling and causing the drought they are experiencing.
A Volkswagen spokeswoman says that there is no evidence that the cannons reduce rainfall, and the company will stop using the cannons on automatic mode and, instead, use them only when "meteorological conditions determine imminent fall of hail."
One local community group, United Native Peoples in Defense of Water and Life, in a statement posted on Facebook, said: "We are happy to know that as a group we have raised our voices against the use of hail cannons by VW Mexico,"
A hail cannon - 2007
A hail cannon - 2007
Augustin Mallet (CC BY 3.0)
The skeptical science behind hail cannons
A hail cannon is a shock wave generator claimed to disrupt the formation of hailstones in the atmosphere. And it is easy to understand why they create conflict between the parties using the devices and the neighboring community because they are repeatedly fired every 1 to 10 seconds while a storm is approaching and until it has passed through the area.
The belief that loud noises will stop hailstorms date back to the early 1900s in the wine-growing regions of France. Church bells were rung as storms were approaching. This method was later replaced by firing rockets or using cannons.
Mike Eggers, the owner of a hail cannon manufacturing facility in New Zealand, said the technology is often incorrectly blamed for stopping the rain. "In reality, the technology isn't around rain, it's around hail. And there's a difference. A substantial difference," he said.
If you believe loud noises or sonic booms can keep hail from forming, you might want to look at the science. thunder produces a much more powerful sonic wave and is usually found in the same storms that generate hail, yet it doesn't seem to disturb the growth of hailstones.
And in 2008, Charles Knight, a cloud physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado said this in a newspaper article: "I don't find anyone in the scientific community who would validate hail cannons, but there are believers in all sorts of things. It would be very hard to prove they don't work, the weather being as unpredictable as it is."
One local official tells Agence France-Presse that any use of the cannons is "unacceptable." "They are not respecting their neighbors' request to definitively stop using hail cannons," says Rafael Ramirez. "The company can take other measures to protect its cars, but people here can't live off anything but their land."
The bottom line for both sides of this story? Volkswagen believes the cannons will prevent hail and the farmers believe they are causing a drought. Actually, there is no scientific evidence that can be used to back either position. But Volkswagen is going to install anti-hail nets to protect its automobiles and the farmers are suing for $4 million in damages.
More about Volkswagen, hil cannons, weatheraltering, unproven science, ruined crops
 
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