One thing is for certain, the Chinese cannot be accused of being subtle when it comes to insuring good weather for the biggest party on Earth. Sounding like a military operation, the Chinese government authorized the use of 1,104 cloud seeding missile launches from 4:00-11:39pm on Friday night to remove the threat of rain ahead of the 29th Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing. This was the first time the weather manipulation technique was used during any Olympic event in the history of the games. This summer period can be a very wet season for Beijing and officials have been concerned their moment of huge national pride would be a wash-out. But it would appear the 21 rain dispersal launch sites kept nature at bay and made sure the celebration fireworks didn’t get soggy…
Although cloud seeding remains a hugely controversial practice, both China and Russia are large-scale advocates of various delivery systems. In June, it was reported that during a Russian Air Force cloud seeding operation, a chunk of cement fell from the sky, making a hole in someone’s roof. Although this incident was quite entertaining (not, however, to the owner who vowed to sue the Kremlin), there are some very big local climate concerns associated with cloud seeding. Scientists have pointed out that weather manipulation can amplify drought conditions in one area or increase the risk of floods in another. It is an unpredictable practice at best, and often considered to be highly unreliable. However, the Chinese and Russian governments continue to seed clouds, in an attempt to disperse rain ahead of public holidays and events.
Chinese meteorologists claim that the weather manipulation rockets were highly effective ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday, keeping the skies clear and audience dry inside the main Olympic National Stadium (a.k.a. “The Birds Nest”).
“We fired a total of 1,104 rain dispersal rockets from 21 sites in the city between 4 p.m. and 11:39 p.m. on Friday, which successfully intercepted a stretch of rain belt from moving towards the stadium” – Guo Hu, Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau (BMB).
According to Xinhua news, Chinese meteorologists decided cloud seeding was the only option as the humidity was rising toward 90% and rain clouds had been tracked since 7:20am approaching the Chinese capital city. Under these conditions, scientists felt for certain rain would pour over the opening ceremony. “Under such a weather condition, a small bubble in the rain cloud would have triggered rainfall, let alone a lightening,” said Guo, presumably indicating that any slight instability in the atmosphere may have caused a storm.
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Sounding more like a terror threat than a rain warning, the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau issued a “Yellow Alert” (the third highest) for a thunderstorm at 9:35pm, with heavy rain hitting downtown Beijing soon after. According to officials, at 10:42pm, the clouds had been dispersed and the opening ceremony remained storm-free. They also stated that other areas surrounding Beijing recorded heavy rain, possibly indicating that the focused cloud seeding campaign worked.