LAKE TAHOE (CBS SF) — California communities suffering from extreme drought could soon get help from an unlikely source — unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. drones.

For years, ground-based machines have injected tiny silver iodide particles into passing storm clouds — a process called cloud seeding. The process can squeeze about 10% more precipitation during a storm.

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Meteorologist Jeff Tilley and his team at Nevada’s Desert Research Institute in Reno are developing a first-of-its-kind drone to take the seeding process high in the sky.

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Piloted planes have been used to seed clouds for more than 60 years. Planes can produce an additional 1 billion gallons of water for every 25 to 45 hours in flight but manned aircraft need to stay above the clouds, for safety reasons.

Tilley says drones can fly through the clouds and can stay aloft longer, producing even more precipitation for communities devastated by drought. He hopes his cloud-seeding drone will begin soaking western communities soon.

It’s estimated that unmanned drones could cut cloud-seeding costs in half, because they require much less fuel than manned planes.

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