‘Another Big Mess’: More Snow in Beijing

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 12, 2009

(by Sky Canaves, The Wall Street Journal – WSJ.com) – Beijing’s Weather Modification Office has apparently done it again, blanketing the city with another relatively heavy snowfall Monday night and Tuesday morning, making it the second snowstorm this November in a desert city that rarely sees much powder.

This time around, the snow storm was accompanied by some spectacular thunder and lightning. While children enjoyed another day of snowball fights and snowman-building, many others in the capital were left grumbling.

“Without advance notice, the weather manipulation led to another big mess yesterday in Beijing, with traffic and flight delays,” the China Daily reports .

Beijing’s airport was shut for four hours Tuesday, resulting in hundreds of flight cancellations and angry confrontations between passengers and airline staff. The South China Morning Post (subscription required) reports that national carrier Air China flights appeared to be hardest hit. A number of highways around the capital were also closed for at least part of the day.

After the first artificially induced snow of the season, the folks in charge of Beijing’s weather boasted about how they shot 186 doses of silver iodide to seed clouds in the sky, adding 16 million tons to the snowfall to ease drought conditions around the capital. But this time around, perhaps mindful of the growing public controversy, they are holding back on declaring another success The China Daily cites an unnamed official from the weather manipulation office as confirming the department’s role in the snowstorm, but declining to disclose further details.

With more cold temperatures and snow in the forecast for the coming days, there are likely to be more opportunities to boost snowfall by artificial means. Many of Beijing residents, meanwhile, will be hoping for better coordination among city government departments.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. What is unusual about Beijing’s second snowstorm of the season?

2. How did the China Daily newspaper editorialize on the government’s Weather Modification Office’s actions?

3. How did the snow affect travel?

4. For what reason does the WSJ reporter suggest that the Chinese government has not officially acknowledged that it had caused the snowstorm?

5. Read the information on cloud seeding under “Background” below, as well as in the links in the first bullet point under “Resources.” What do you think of the Chinese government’s efforts to ease the drought around Beijing by means of cloud seeding? Would you support U.S. government efforts to do the same in a drought stricken area of the U.S. on a regular basis? Explain your answers.


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Background

ON THE PRACTICE OF CLOUD-SEEDING:

  • The United States began weather control research in 1946. Currently, some states use cloud-seeding programs in an attempt to increase precipitation levels or prevent crop-damaging hail. An eight-year experiment in Texas and Oklahoma, conducted over 5,000 square miles (12,950 square kilometers), showed that cloud seeding increased rainfall, cloud height, length of storms and the area in which rain fell [source: Eckhardt]. Even so, enthusiasm for cloud seeding in the U.S. has dried up since the early 1970s, when federal funding was about $19 million a year [source: Cotton, Engber]. Now states have to kick in the dough if they want to try ruling the skies.
  • Internationally, Russia, Israel, Thailand, South Africa and Caribbean nations have all tried their hand at cloud seeding, with mixed results. Australian scientists­ conducted numerous experiments, discovering that static seeding didn’t appear to be effective over Australia’s plains but was very effective over Tasmania.
  • Despite some successful tests, cloud seeding still has many problems. The fundamental concern is:
    Does it work? It may be a chicken-and-egg conundrum — would it have rained in a given area without the use of cloud seeding, and would it have rained less? Cloud seeding also depends heavily on environmental conditions like temperature and cloud composition.
  • In 2003, the United States National Academy of Sciences declared that 30 years of studies had not produced “­convincing” evidence that weather modification works [source: Associated Press]. On the other hand, the American Meteorological Society claims that some studies on cloud seeding show a 10 percent increase in rain volume [source: Eckhardt].
  • ­Cloud seeding is quite expensive, though potentially cheaper than other projects, like diverting rivers, building new canals or improving irrigation systems. Then again, the allure of cloud seeding may redirect attention and funding from other projects that could be more promising. Then there are questions about altering weather. Are some areas taking moisture out of the air that would have fallen as rain in another region? …
  • Despite reassurances from cloud-seeding companies, concerns also remain about exposure to silver iodide toxicity and soil contamination. …cloud seeding has strong supporters, but it remains controversial.
  • Scientists may not be sure if cloud seeding actually works, but despite the skepticism, China is moving forward. The nation spends $60 to $90 million a year on weather modification, in addition to the $266 million spent from 1995 to 2003 [source: Things Asian]. The government plans to produce 1.7 trillion cubic feet (50 billion cubic meters) of rain a year through the practice [source: Aiyar]. … (from science.howstuffworks.com/cloud-seeding2.htm)

Resources

  • For photos of Beijing’s snowstorm from the Wall Street Journal, click here.