Volkswagen In Trouble For Altering Mexico's Weather

Steve Miller

Staff member
Jun 14, 2004
Moore, OK
Volkswagen is reversing course on the use of controversial weather-altering technology at a major Mexican car plant after local farmers complained that the system caused a drought by preventing rainfall.

The German carmaker had installed hail cannons, which fire shockwaves into the atmosphere, at its Puebla site to prevent the formation of ice stones that had been damaging finished vehicles parked outside its facility. But local farmers said the devices, which were set to fire automatically under certain weather conditions, caused a drought during the months that should have been Mexico’s rainy season.

Gerardo Perez, a farmers’ representative in the area, told the AFP agency that the cannons meant the “sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain”. A group of local farmers claimed that 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of crops were affected, and filed a suit claiming 70 million pesos (€3.2m) in damages from the carmaker, AFP reported. In response, VW said it would install netting above the cars to protect them from hailstorms in the future.

The company’s Puebla plant in Mexico is the second largest in VW’s global portfolio, and its biggest outside of Germany, making 450,000 cars and employing some 15,000 staff. The carmaker invested in the hail cannon technology to prevent damage to its vehicles earlier this year.

A spokesman for VW said on Wednesday that the company would immediately suspend the use of the machines in automatic mode, following meetings with state authorities this week. “Once the anti-hail nets are installed in the yards, they will be used as the main measure for the protection of vehicles, while the devices will serve as a secondary tool and will only be used in manual mode,” he added. “With these actions, Volkswagen de México expresses its commitment to maintain sustainable relationships with its stakeholders: environment, neighboring communities, and authorities.”

Hail storms present significant problems for car manufacturers, which often have large numbers of finished vehicles parked outside at distribution centers or plants.

In 2008, a freak hailstorm in Germany caused millions of pounds of damage, including chipped paintwork and dented bodywork, to thousands of VW vehicles at its Emden facility. Typically carmakers install canopies or netting over the parking areas to protect vehicles, though some also use the cannons.

When Nissan installed cannons at its Mississippi plant in 2005, neighbors complained about the noise of the devices, which push water droplets away to prevent them from forming hail, firing off shockwaves every six seconds during stormy periods.
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Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
Westminster, CO
This is pretty lol-tastic. There are essentially zero published studies on the use of hail cannons showing statistically significant and cost-effective results from their use. In fact, this study that I found from within the last 10 years flat out said...
Weiringa and Holleman said:
In summary, for dealing with hailfall risks the use of cannons or explosive rockets is a waste of money and effort.
I did a search for the term "hail cannon" on AMS's journals page and found zero articles beyond about 1975 or so. From the study cited above, the failure of hail cannons to prevent hail from reaching crops was first recognized in the early 1900s. There was a resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s, but the best study results were "inconclusive" at best. For these things to still be around in the 21st century suggests there are some gullible (or superstitious, or uneducated, or just plain stupid) farmers out there and some hella good snake oil salesmen still around.

Source: Weiringa, J. and I. Holleman, 2006: If cannons cannot fight hail, what else?
Meteorologische Zeitschrift, Vol. 15, No. 6, 659-669 (December 2006) (published online 2006)

This article is likely behind a paywall. Working for a university or federal lab has its perks!

Furthermore, none of the above considers the presence of thunder, which is pretty ubiquitous in storms that produce large hail. Also, the thunder is probably louder and consists of a more powerful pressure shock than these cannons can produce, so these hail cannons underperform at something the storm already does by itself! Considering the cost to fully furnish even one cannon can run as high as $35-50 thousand I'm pretty surprised anyone would buy one.
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