February 19, 2009

Cloud Seeding Generates Heavy Snow In Beijing

A carpet of heavy snow blanketed Beijing Wednesday night, induced by China's artificial seeding of clouds with chemicals to mitigate the most severe drought to grip the northern part of the nation in nearly 40 years.

Officials in Beijing have been firing chemicals into the clouds to create northern China's first precipitation in more than 100 days. The flurries began falling Tuesday evening, and by yesterday, 28 rocket-launch bases had fired more than 500 cigarette-sized sticks of silver iodide into clouds, according to the Beijing Weather Modification Command Center.

However, this is still not enough to alleviate the drought that has jeopardized wheat harvests in several northern provinces. Weather bureau records show that Beijing is experiencing its longest drought in 38 years.

Authorities had closed 12 highways around the capital city of Beijing on Thursday, including all outbound highways in Hebei province, according to China's Xinhua news agency.

"The snow has brought moisture to the soil, which may help end the drought," Guo Yingchun, a senior engineer with the provincial meteorological observatory, was quoted as saying.

Making the most of the cloud cover and renewed scattered snow, officials decided to "enhance" the snowfall by artificial seeding again last night. They fired 313 more sticks of silver iodide into the sky.

The procedure "made the snow a lot heavier," Guo added.

Weather forecasters in Hebei province said flurries would continue through Thursday night in the northern most areas of the province.

The increasingly rare sight of Beijing's ancient buildings blanketed in snow attracted eager visitors to the Forbidden City.

A spokesman for the Badaling section of the Great Wall said the number of visitors had nearly doubled.

"Even though it wasn't the weekend, about 4,000 tourists still showed up yesterday to watch the snow ... the scene is spectacular," he was quoted as saying.

Many said they were visiting for the opportunity of seeing the Emperor's home covered in snow.

"Tourists will come in any weather, no matter if it snows or rains - people come anyway," one Forbidden City administrative official was quoted as saying.