When we awoke on Sunday, we were shocked to find Beijing draped in snow. It was a gorgeous white Halloween, and the earliest snowfall in a decade -- the result in part of an unusually strong cold front that had a few of us thinking of Copenhagen (and not just because of the Danish capital's weather).
The snow was also the work of the government's weather guns. As the Guardian writes:
Its workers fired 186 doses of silver iodide into the air between 8pm on Saturday and 11.25am yesterday to prompt precipitation, causing an extra 16m cubic metres of snow to fall on the city.
Zhang Qiang, the deputy director of the weather modification office, told state media: "We won't miss any opportunity of artificial precipitation since Beijing is suffering from the lingering drought."
An Old Beijing Trick
Man-made precipitation, the subject of my very first blog here, is not uncommon in Beijing -- or for that matter, in other parts of the world in dire need of precipitation. But Beijing is in especially dire need. The typically dry capital hadn't seen rain in 100 days.
The drought has affected 800,000 hectares of farmland by the end of October, official sources estimated, and the snow storm was said to be a much-needed boon to local farmers.
But not all farmers in the region benefited. One possible side effect of weather modification is that it diverts precipitation from other regions that need it too, for the sake of creating stronger storms in a focused area.
Travelers were also not amused. At Beijing's airport, around 100 planes were delayed, and, in a few cases, cancelled.
Weather-Modification a Band-Aid For Serious Drought
In Western China and other of the many drought-affected parts of the country, the government is paying farmers to move to cities in order to preserve farmland and keep people employed.
For years, drought has turned millions in China into domestic climate migrants.
Beijing, which knows a thing or two about faking it, doesn't just use cloud-seeding to alleviate drought. In some cases, the city has used the controversial technique to prevent rain from falling on certain areas of the city -- the Olympic Opening Ceremony for instance -- or to create "blue sky days" on days that might otherwise be classified as polluted.
In any case, whether or not weather-modification is a good idea in certain cases -- and the jury's still out on that one -- it's no long term solution to the problems caused by climate change.
We're gonna need a treaty, not guns, for that.