Government claims credit for rain that cleared smoky Moscow sky

Saturday, September 7, 2002

MOSCOW -- A day after acrid smoke from forest and peat fires blanketed Moscow, a light rain Friday cleared the air -- and the government claimed the credit.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said it drew rain clouds to the smog-shrouded capital and created showers by switching on a cubical piece of equipment, 3 feet on each side, that sits atop a ministry building in western Moscow.

"Yes, we did it," ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said proudly of the drizzle that brought relief after several rainless weeks. He said the ministry kept the device working Friday in an effort to repeat the initial success.

It was the first time the ministry used the ionizer, a device developed by its research institute that cranks out electrically-charged atoms. The institute's director, Mikhail Shakhramanian, said the device, a metal cage crisscrossed by tungsten wire, emits a vertical flow of oxygen ions that stirs the air and raises humidity.

Shakhramanian promised the ionizer would cause more rain in coming days, but added the process would be slow because the air is bone dry.

He pointed to weather forecasts -- which had called for sunny, smoky skies Friday -- as proof that his device, not nature, was responsible for the rain.

Todd Miner, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, said he wasn't familiar with the Russian government's device, but he said it wasn't impossible to create a light drizzle under certain conditions.

Some residents were skeptical of the ministry's claim.

"It's all fantasy," said Lyudmila, a retiree who gave only her first name.

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