Posted by: schmivian | November 4, 2009

Snow day!


the view from my window Sunday morning...just beside that tall building is my Chinese class

Brr! After a late Halloween night, I woke up noon-ish on Sunday to a full fluffy 4 inches or so of snow on the ground and plenty more drifting down. The rarity of snow in Beijing meant lots of Chinese folks were out on the streets making snowmen, having impromptu snowball fights and taking lots of whimsical pictures among the shrubbery. It was really a great feeling lazy snow day, reminding me of being back on the East Coast. But surprise, surprise, I soon found out that the snowstorm was completely artificial (so typical of China)!

Beijing has an office called the Weather Modification Office (WMO). They’re the same guys who brought you those glorious blue skies for the 2008 Summer Olympics and this years National Day parade. Their M.O.? Spraying (“seeding”) clouds with silver iodide to make water droplets collect and then fall as rain. This can be done in order to make the weather clear for a big event, clear particulate from the air if the pollution is super bad, or get some water back in the reservoirs. Northern China had been experiencing a drought since September exacerbating its already dire water situation so the decision was made to seed the clouds. Doses of silver iodide are shot into the air with special (enormous) cannons and dropped from planes. This is, however, not an exact science as an unexpectedly strong cold front caused the precipitation to come down as snow this time, causing travel delays and other unforeseen hassles.

Despite how weird weather modification sounds, countries all over the world have been known to seed clouds since the possibility was raised in the 40’s. Several US states have cloud seeding programs, mostly for research. But as we all know from grade school, just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it okay. Since, in China, different municipalities have independent weather modification bureaus, disputes have risen over Beijing ‘taking water away’ from neighboring areas. For instance, the majority of precipitation in this last snowfall will probably go to quenching the thirst of city dwellers, not irrigating farms in Shanxi or Shaanxi where it may have fallen ‘naturally.’ Should this technology become more accurate, we may be fighting our future water wars over who rules the skies as well as who owns the land. Even more depressing, it could ruin the magic of waking up to an completely unexpected snow day forever.



  1. Viv, this is amazing! I didn’t know that you can alter the nature. love, mom

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