The 2008 Summer Olympics in China are a big deal…no doubt about that. The Chinese have gone done a huge amount of work in preparing for what’s often considered the greatest sports gathering on the planet. New venues have been built, the city is being cleaned up for its guests, and athletes all around the world are tuning up for their moment in the sun. And the Chinese hope that it will be sunny, but if not they have a plan…
The Chinese are going to control the weather.
According to this article published recently at TechnologyReview.com, the city’s branch of the national Weather Modification Office has prepared a three-staged plan for helping guide Mother Nature in the right direction.
First, Beijing’s Weather Modification Office will track the region’s weather via satellites, planes, radar, and an IBM p575 supercomputer, purchased from Big Blue last year, that executes 9.8 trillion floating point operations per second. It models an area of 44,000 square kilometers (17,000 square miles) accurately enough to generate hourly forecasts for each kilometer.
Then, using their two aircraft and an array of twenty artillery and rocket-launch sites around Beijing, the city’s weather engineers will shoot and spray silver iodide and dry ice into incoming clouds that are still far enough away that their rain can be flushed out before they reach the stadium.
Finally, any rain-heavy clouds that near the Bird’s Nest will be seeded with chemicals to shrink droplets so that rain won’t fall until those clouds have passed over.
Given that August is typically part of the rainy season in Beijing, with daily chances of rain exceeding 50%, the Chinese government would seem to have its work cut out for it. Doubters of this sort of science might point to our own inability to control the weather, but these facts may indicate the Chinese have a jump on the rest of the world:
The Chinese began experimental weather engineering in 1958 to irrigate the country’s north, where average yearly rainfall compares with that during the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and sudden windstorms blasting down from the Gobi desert have made drought and famine constant possibilities. Today, the People’s Republic budgets $60 to $90 million annually for its national Weather Modification Office. As for the return on this investment, the state-run news agency Xinhua claims that between 1999 and 2007, the office rendered 470,000 square kilometers of land hail-free and created more than 250 billion tons of rain–an amount sufficient to fill the Yellow River, China’s second largest, four times over. Furthermore, while Qian’s weather engineers in Beijing have been testing their capabilities for the past two years, the Chinese say that during the past five years, similar efforts have already helped produce good weather at national events like the World Expo in Yunnan, the Asian Games in Shanghai, and the Giant Panda Festival in Sichuan.
Most eyes in the world will be on the athletes competing in China in August. But, for a few scientists and other meteorologists across the world, their eyes will be in the sky…and they hope to not see any rain.