Parting the seas may still require a miracle, but harvesting water from the desert skies? Don't cross that one off your list of marvels just yet either.
A Swiss company has announced the successful testing of a new weather control technology, which it claims has created as many as fifty rainstorms in the barren, arid deserts of Abu Dhabi. The company, Zug, Switzerland-based Meteo Systems, has invented a system that uses giant ionizers -- essentially fabric-free umbrellas on long steel poles. These generate fields of negatively charged particles that rise with dust from the desert and promote cloud formation, the company says, and therefore rain.
But all that's formed are clouds of doubt among the scientists FoxNews.com spoke with.
Dr. Joseph Golden, formerly senior meteorologist at the Forecast Systems Lab of the National Weather Service and an expert in weather modification, read headlines describing the system, which supposedly created clouds from clear skies -- and said fat chance.
"That's garbage, that's absolute garbage. I don't believe that for a nanosecond. You aren't going to get anything out of clear skies," he told FoxNews.com. "I don't want to sound like Tom Cruise here, but show me the data."
"It's possible, but show me the data," he added.
Cloud seeding with silver iodide is a far better known technology for drawing precipitation from clouds, and even its efficacy isn't completely proven. But ionizers? Not so much. Still, the company was enthusiastic about the test results.
"We have achieved a number of rainfalls," boasted Helmut Fluhrer, the head of the company, in a confidential video uncovered by London tabloid the Daily Mail. But is it real? Other experts FoxNews.com spoke with were cautious, at best, about the new technology.
"I have my reservations about whether it's effective," said Don Griffith, president of North American Weather Consultants, which specializes in weather modification technologies Griffith cautions that even using more conventional techniques like silver iodide seeding to increase precipitation isn't a completely proven technology, though he calls it accepted enough that "the American Society of Civil Engineers has developed a Standard Practice document for precipitation enhancement."
Griffith cautioned that the ionizing system Meteo proposes, to the best of his knowledge, remains very much untested. "Independent verification is needed, such as a randomized treatment design test program applied to a significant number of treated and not treated events to determine if there are any differences in precipitation that can be supported through statistical significance testing."
"And without this type of concrete evidence gathered over multiple tests, it’s hard to tell for sure what effect the new tech really has," Griffith told FoxNews.com.
Unfortunately, it's hard to gather that information, since data from the company itself is unavailable. Secrecy seems to be the hallmark of Fluhrer's company, which requires a password merely for access to the site. Meteo Systems did not respond to FoxNews.com's request for more information, nor did the Max Planck Institute, which supposedly oversaw the experiments.
Professor Peter Wilderer, director of advanced studies on sustainability at the Technical University of Munich, watched the experiments firsthand, however -- and he told the Daily Mail that the breakthrough was real.
"We came a big step closer to the point where we can increase the availability of fresh water to all in times of dramatic global changes," Wilderer said.
Meteo Systems filed a patent application on February 4, 2010, for the new technology, which it brands Weathertec. The patent app describes "methods and devices for modifying atmospheric conditions, known in this context as weather modification, by enhancing electric forces exerted on and between particles of atmospheric air such as water particles, aerosols, molecular clusters, and water molecules possessing their own electric dipole moment."
Reports suggest that this ionizing technology also created hailstorms, which leads Golden to speculate that the researchers involved may be connected to an anti-hail project from the 70s.
"The Swiss used to operate a world-class hail suppression project. I don’t know if this is a spin-off of that or what," he told FoxNews.com.
"They used rockets -- Russian rockets for a time -- and they did some pretty careful work," which even led to a U.S. pilot project in Colorado. But that technology remained unproved.
A colleague of Golden's voiced similar concerns, e-mailing the scientist a no-holds-barred comment that "this appears to be more of the nonsense that bedevils weather modification over the years. No, it is not true."
While the potential to create rain in the desert would be revolutionary, Golden and others stress that without data, there's simply no way to verify the hype.
"They're making some rather rash claims, and I'm very skeptical, " Golden said.
Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.