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2009-11-03

Rainmakers without phones

20091101-DSC_8835

This Sunday Beijing was suddenly covered in snow. The week before we had eaten our lunch outside in the sun, fully convinced we would see a few more weeks of warm autumn weather.

The weather changes all the time, and a bit of snow might seem mildly exciting for a Swede, had it not been for some of the facts surrounding the sudden change of weather.

My daughter was of course excited about the whole thing. Let’s go outside! We spent a few confused minutes trying to locate our winter clothes, and went out. People were taking pictures of the snow, and the kids made snow sculptures. All very picturesque.

Returning to the office this Monday I read that it was in fact the earliest snowfall since 1987, and the third earliest ever recorded in Beijing. So should I start worrying about global cooling? Can we cancel that costly Copenhagen summit? Sell the Prius and get a SUV?

No. It turns out the heavy snowfall was triggered by the local weather “command centre” in an attempt to mitigate the severe draught that has been plaguing this part of China for a while. They blasted 186 sticks of silver iodide into the clouds, triggering some 16 million cubic metres of rain and snow. “Although it was too early for snowfall, the conditions were suitable, and we weren't going to ignore any opportunity”, says one of the rainmakers who is quoted in South China Morning Post.

While my kids loved the snow, it was less popular with the passengers of some 200 delayed flights at the Beijing Capital International Airport. Seems the “command centre” missed to tell everyone there was going to be heavy snowfall.

I am sure we’ll see more man-made weather in Beijing. The weather “command centre” has a solid track record. Last year’s Olympics saw great weather, and Hu Jintao could greet the troops basking in sunshine at this year’s National Day celebrations. All thanks to the rainmakers’ getting rid of unnecessary clouds the evening before.

But these were events planned long in advance, not an opportunity grabbed at the last moment. For those occasions, the rainmakers better learn to communicate better or they will soon lose their popularity and their chance of becoming real heroes; the bringers of perfect-weather picnics and crisp winter walks in the park.

“Forecasts” seems very much last century’s tech.

/Patrik Lockne, consultant at Springtime's Beijing office

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