Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Take Cover!

Rachel and I were taking a cab home from a day in the big city Monday night when all of the sudden what seemed to be anti aircraft missiles started going off all around us. It was dark and pouring rain but the flames from the rockets were less than 50 yards away and the noise was deafening. We quickly realized that these were cloud seeding rockets.

My first thought was they were practicing inducing heavy rainfall here in the hills west of town to reduce the amount of rain from falling on Beijing. Olympic planners have launched a full scale assault on the weather to try to prevent rain from ruining the opening ceremonies and other outdoor events.

Talking with our hosts the next morning, however, they informed us that the rockets in our neighborhood are for hail prevention. They say the anti-rain rockets are further west into the hills and the rockets launched here are to prevent hail stones from forming and taking out the fruit trees in the many nearby orchards.

So the Chinese use cloud seeding rockets to induce rain, to prevent rain in other places, and, it seems, to prevent hail stones from forming.

Pretty savvy weather commanders here in the Middle Kingdom, eh? Perhaps not.

William Langewiesche has a great article in Vanity Fair profiling the country's top rainmakers and tracing the long history of cloud seeding back to its roots in the States. His final conclusion is it likely has little to no affect but sure packs a powerful sense of control.

[Photo by Calum MacLeod, lifted from USA TODAY].