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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/ 3/2009

Deja vu for China's weather modification program

By Steve Tracton

* Cold is coming: Full Forecast | Saturday snow? | December weather *

"Artificial Snowstorm Brings Chaos to Beijing"
"Beijing Blanketed by Freak Government-Made Snow"
"Rain Shell Makes a Corpse Explode"

Beijing gets its first snow of the season early last month. Credit: Associated Press

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.

By Steve Tracton  | December 3, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  International Weather, Tracton  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Temperatures heading downward
Next: PM Update: Gusty winds to diminish


Snowfall is better 4 helping 2 ease a drought. It allows the moisture 2 b slowly
absorbed into the soil, as opposed 2 having much of the rain run off. I'll volunteer 2 b in the snow area.

Posted by: VaTechBob | December 3, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I left Beijing for Bangkok two nights before. It was pouring down rain and our flight slightly delayed. The next day, reported by some of my colleagues who stayed their for the weekend said it was blue bird. Then the snow came when they tried to leave for Bangkok and the Beijing airport was shut down. But the three day's I was there the air pollution was so bad from smog and dust blowing in from the desert that when we landed in Beijing the pilot said visibilty was only 1 mile!

Posted by: johnnyd2 | December 3, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse


The snow in Beijing and exploding corpse are examples of unintended and unexpected consequences from purposeful weather modification. The smog is human caused as well, but expected from the intentional use of fossil fuels. The dust might also be human caused from deforestation and particulars of agricultural practices.

P.S. My son's descriptions matches yours exactly from his recent travel to Beijing during the same time frame you refer to. Same group??

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | December 3, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Into every corrupt CHICOM life must some acid rain/pollution/dust storm/flying corpse/and/or some rain/snow fall...

Posted by: rickahyatt | December 7, 2009 1:29 AM | Report abuse

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