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Beijing uses high-tech to prevent rain from dampening Olympic opening

Updated: 2008-07-28 From: Xinhuanet

BEIJING, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Beijing has mobilized all its science and engineering capability, including satellite monitoring and cloud seeding, to prevent rain from spoiling the extensively expected Olympic opening ceremony on Aug. 8 as historical data indicate a 41 percent precipitation chance on that date.

The Beijing weather engineering office, under the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau, takes the lead in the Olympic weather modification project.

The office doesn't bother to change a lot. It is asked to prevent rain from falling during the three and half hours -- from 8:08 p.m. to around 11:30 p.m. -- onto the Bird's Nest, the open-air National Stadium which will accommodate the opening ceremony.

A technology developed by American scientists, cloud seeding is achieved by shooting shells or rockets containing silver iodide particles into clouds. The icy particles freeze drops in the clouds, make the drops continue growing and eventually fall out of the clouds.

The weather engineering office is weaving a defensive web from adjacent provinces to the Beijing suburbs. Twenty-six control stations have been deployed to fend off clouds or delay their movement.

The office hires 32,000 people, and recruits light aircraft, rockets and shells to spread silver iodide crystals or dry ice in clouds 50 km upwind of Beijing. Result estimates can be reported from control stations to the headquarters within 10 minutes.

One silver iodide shell costs up to 88 yuan (12.75 U.S. dollars),one rocket is priced at 2,000 yuan (290 U.S. dollars), and one aircraft trip spends much more. About 100 shells or four rockets are used in each single action, according to experts.

The office claimed to have eliminated a cloud by airborne spread of infusorial earth on its top on June 2, 2005, which was not found documented in an academic journal.

Meteorologists need to capitalize on radars and weather satellites to monitor colossal storms, which are usually unpredictable, and set off early warnings for Olympic weather services.

One main strategy of the meteorologists is to engineer weather in order to keep the Olympics dry for at least the first three and half hours. Such research and experiments have been conducted since2001 when Beijing successfully bade for the Olympic host.

Many meteorologists agree that cloud seeding technology is only effective to small or mid-sized clouds and thus impossible to influence giant storm systems, which can cover up to a hundred square kilometers. The methodology is employed basically to speed up rain, delay rain, or change the place where rain falls, one Beijing-based expert said.

Some meteorologists, meanwhile, argue the study on cloud formation and large-scale weather conditions is insufficient to effective weather modification. Others dispute on the negative impact of spreading silver iodide in the sky on environment.

Yu Xinwen, a China Meteorological Administration (CMA) spokesman, said here Monday that the statistical probability of 41 percent, based on the meteorological data collected in the past 33 years, just offers a rough idea on a historical chance of precipitation.

An instant case is the 15th Asian Games in December 2006 in Doha, Qatar. In a country where rain has been rarely seen, a deluge soaked athletes and spectators during the expensive and breathtaking opening ceremony.

However, Yu said, "It's possible to predict the weather at the opening night one week in advance, and prediction accuracy will scale up leading to Aug. 8." He expected more precise predictions within two days before the Olympics.

As historical data indicate, early August is often warm and humid, and might not be an ideal timing for the Olympic opening. Many thought the Beijing Olympic organizers deliberately chose the auspicious eighth day of the eighth month. However, organizers said it was not the fact.

Fortune-conscious Chinese do care lucky numbers, among others 8 is the best to represent prosperity and wealth. But decision makers were briefed by meteorologists that the week beginning with August 8 usually falls in the wettest period each year in Beijing.

It was reported that the Beijing organizers proposed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to kick off the Games, ideally, on Aug. 15. The final decision of the Aug. 8 option from the IOC left Beijing the only choice to prevent rain, at least around the sky of the Bird's Nest.

The urgency on weather engineering for the Olympic opening is based on one assumption that the main sports venue has no roof. Architects did include a controlled full roof in their original design. The roofless version, which now stands in north of the city, allegedly saved taxpayers 300 million yuan (43 million U.S. dollars).

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