Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's Not Nice To Fool With Mother Nature: Beijing Storm Turns Day Into Night

Beijing Storm
Day turns to night as a ferocious storm sweeps across Beijing, China just before midday on June 16, 2009. (ABC News: Rob Hill)

I have heard mention here-and-there of reports of the Chinese Government fooling around with weather modification. (No, I'm not kidding. And, no, it wasn't a story in the National Enquirer.) Chinese officials have claimed to have had some actual success with attempts at cloud-seeding (Please see bottom of this Blog for more background on Cloud-Seeding.) in order to bring rain to some drought-stricken areas.

This past Tuesday, Ma Nature possibly gave them a not-so-subtle rap on the knuckles and a stern warning about not fooling around with those forces of hers.

It came in the form of a frightening and ferocious storm.

What have been described as 'thunder-clouds' rolled in ominously Tuesday morning... and by noon the clouds had all but obliterated entirely the light of the sun - plunging Bejing into a complete darkness that is usually reserved for the midnight hour.

Officials were forced to turn streetlights on, drivers had to engage their headlights and businesses flicked on their fluorescents.

Chatter on online social sites joked about The End Of Days and of weaponized weather.

The storm passed after an hour.

Unfortunately, The End did come for at least seven citizens, who were reportedly killed by lightning strikes.

Wouldn't it be ironic (and really weird) if any of the seven persons who were reportedly killed by the storm turned out to be employees of the Chinese Meteorological Bureau... specifically their cloud-seeding program?

The Moral Of This Story?...

"Just Because You Can Do Something... Doesn't Mean You Should."


(2007 file photo: An artillery operator stands next to one of the guns used to seed clouds to induce rain at a station of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau.)
Maybe Mother Nature doesn't like to take fire from these?


At midday in Beijing today the sky turned black as midnight, as one of the most spectacular storms in recent memory struck the Chinese capital.

Thunder clouds blocked the sun from 11am, forcing the authorities to turn on streetlamps, offices to blaze with fluorescent lights and cars to drive with their headlights on.

During the darkest period, around 11.20am, office cooler, classroom, Twitter and Facebook gossip turned apocalyptic with many half-jokingly prophesying the end of the world and new weather weapons, while others wondered publicly about a secret solar eclipse or the death of the sun.

The storm passed within an hour with little apparent damage. But for a small handful, the portents of doom came true. Local media reported seven people were fatally struck by lightning as the storms swept across north-east China.

Weather forecasters said it was extremely rare for such ferocious weather to hit the country at this time of year.

Speculation inevitably centred on the government's weather modification programme, which has been ramped up in recent years to offset droughts by seeding clouds. But Guardian efforts to contact the meteorological bureau have as yet been unanswered.


"Cloud Seeding is a means of modifying weather patterns by sending chemicals into the atmosphere that induce or suppress precipitation. China has been engaging in the practice for years, shooting shells with silver iodide into the atmosphere to encourage or prevent rainfall for farmers, fight fires and relieve drought.

Cloud seeding is a controversial practice and its benefits are often difficult to track. Scientists cannot definitively say how much rain would have fallen if seeding did not take place, and large storms are often unaffected by seeding attempts.

The United States, which experimented with cloud seeding at various points during the 20th century, has since moved away from the process.

Asia Times Online reported in 2007 that cloud seeding shells and rockets sometimes go astray, “damaging homes and injuring inhabitants.” (In 2005, a wayward cloud-seeding artillery shell killed a Chinese man and then blew up his corpse a few days later. Cloud-Seeding Collateral Damage, anyone?) The publication notes that, in 2006, a pedestrian in Chongqing was killed by part of a rain cannon after it misfired. In addition, some Chinese citizens have expressed concern over the environmental and health ramifications of cloud seeding.

An article on the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program Web site suggests that “Cloud-seeding technology raises some concerns that adding chemicals to clouds would pollute the air, water or earth.”

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