Deja vu for China's weather modification program
"Artificial Snowstorm Brings Chaos to Beijing"
"Beijing Blanketed by Freak Government-Made Snow"
"Rain Shell Makes a Corpse Explode"
Yes, even the last headline is for real (more later). The first two are among stories from last month (here and here) when Beijing saw its earliest snowfall in 22 years and the heaviest in 54 years (about 7 to 8 inches). Perhaps most significantly, the heavy snow came as a complete surprise to the affected populace. The consequent havoc, not unlike that wreaked by snowstorms in the D.C. area, included traffic snarls, flight cancellations, school closures, and general consternation of having to deal with the unexpected.
For China's weather modification program, it's deja vu all over again. As we reported previously, Chinese officials claim they prevented rain from ruining the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics and induced last year's first snowfall by seeding clouds with silver iodide launched by rockets.
What was true then is equally valid now. Namely, the recent surprise snow might very well have occurred naturally. China has yet to provide convincing evidence to the contrary. However, there is new twist this time around.
With virtually all weather modification efforts the largest concern is the law of unintended consequences -- i.e., the unavoidable possibility of direct and indirect consequences other than those intended (e.g., see #12 here). Given the complex nature of weather, there are and always will be uncertainties in predicting the outcome of efforts to manipulate weather.
Indeed, Chinese scientists acknowledged they were embarrassed by the most recent snowstorm. The intent, they say, was to produce rain, and only rain, to ease drought conditions. They were surprised, however, by a sudden drop in temperature that allowed the precipitation to fall as snow.
Just imagine the reaction should Washingtonians ever experience a repeat of the Jan. 24-25, 2000, "surprise snowstorm" -- and then find out after the fact that the storm was artificially induced. Not a pleasant thought.
And now to the exploding corpse: By chance I came upon an item from last year describing what has to be the most unbelievable and morbid unintended consequence of China's weather modification program. A man thought first to have died from being struck by lightning was actually killed by an unexploded weather rocket. Apparently the rocket shell became lodged in the victim's body, and was not discovered until his body exploded during his cremation. In at least a tacit admission that responsibility lay with China's weather bureau, the victim's family was awarded the equivalent of about $15,000 in compensation.
Finally, perhaps not to be outdone by China, the mayor of Moscow has proposed seeding the clouds of approaching storms to redirect snowfall to regions outside of Moscow and, thereby, reduce the amount of snow that falls on the Russian capital.
Hey, if something like this actually works, think about the possibility of partitioning the D.C area into separate havens for snow lovers and snow haters.
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