The deluge, which happened on Aug. 15, 1952, swept through the once-picturesque Devon county where Lynmouth is located. Nine inches of rain fell in the span of 24 hours, causing a 90-metric-ton torrent of water to gush forth and cause the death of more than 30 people. Tons of rock at the Exmooor area saturated by the flood fell onto Lynmouth and destroyed several homes and businesses.
The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) has categorically denied its role in the tragic disaster, dubbed as "the hand of God."
But previously classified documents from 2001 suggested that a team of international scientists working with the Royal Air Force (RAF) had been experimenting with artificial rainmaking in southern Britain, where Devon is located, during the same week as the flood. The documents also revealed that the operation, dubbed "Operation Cumulus," was actually a geoengineering effort.
RAF Squadron Leader Len Otley recounted to the BBC that they jokingly referred to the rainmaking exercise as "Operation Witch Doctor." Group Captain John Hart, who served as Otley's navigator, also looked back at the success of the operation.
"We flew straight through the top of the cloud [and] poured dry ice down into [it]," said Hart. "We flew down to see if any rain came out of the cloud. It did about 30 minutes later, and we all cheered."
A 50-year-old radio broadcast unearthed by the British national broadcaster also described glider pilot Alan Yates flying over Bedfordshire and spraying quantities of salt. He was later informed that there was a devastating downpour in Staines, located 50 miles away.
"I was told that the rain had been the heaviest for several years and all out of a sky which looked summery. There was no disguising the fact that the seedsman had said he'd make it rain, and he did. Toasts were drunk to meteorology and it was not until the BBC news bulletin [about the Lynmouth disaster] was read later on, that a stony silence fell on the company," Yates said.
For its part, the British Meteorological Office – the U.K.'s national weather service – denied conducting weather manipulation experiments prior to 1955.
But documents obtained by the BBC from the public record office, alongside RAF logbooks and attestations from personnel, confirmed that weather alteration exercises were going on from 1949 to 1955. They also suggested that there had been a "cloud-seeding" operation between Aug. 4 and Aug. 15, 1952 – the day of the tragedy.
The Guardian also obtained declassified minutes from a Nov. 3, 1953 meeting of the now-defunct Air Ministry, held at the War Office Building in London's Whitehall district. The minutes showed that the British military was interested in artificially increasing precipitation for military purposes.
The documents also touched on cloud seeding having the capability "to explode an atomic weapon in a seeded storm system or cloud," producing "a far wider area of radioactive contamination than in a normal atomic explosion." (Related: Nations are now using weather modification as clandestine warfare, CIA warns.)
But following the tragedy, Operation Cumulus was indefinitely put on hold.
Three years after the tragedy in Lynmouth, the issue of liability and compensation claims related to the flooding was raised in the House of Commons. As per documents seen by the BBC, both the Air Ministry and Her Majesty's Treasury expressed anxiety over the potential damage weather manipulation can inflict on civilians.
In the early 2000s, the British Geological Survey examined soil sediments in Lynmouth to find any residues of silver or iodide. While tests on soil samples were inconclusive, silver residue had been discovered in the catchment waters of the West Lyn and East Lyn rivers that straddle the village.
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