BEIJING – When I drew my curtains on Sunday morning to find thick snow falling outside, I thought something weird was going on.
Saturday had been gloriously warm and sunny. And even if the temperature had plummeted overnight, which it clearly had, Beijing winters are generally dry as a bone.
Monday morning, all was revealed. Beijing’s weathermen had been at work, it turned out, seeding the clouds to make it rain. Or snow, as it happened.
“We have to seize every opportunity to increase precipitation,” the head of the Beijing Weather Modification Office, Zhang Qiang, told the daily Global Times. “Beijing had almost no rainfall in October.”
You may not have a Weather Modification Office in your country. You don’t know what you are missing.
Quite apart from giving Beijing kids four inches of unexpected snow to play in this weekend, these are the people who stopped it raining on the 2008 Summer Olympics during what is normally one of the wettest months of the year, and kept China’s military might dry last month for the National Day parade.
They do it by launching rockets that seed the clouds with silver iodide pellets, provoking rain (or snow) when and where they want. They also use the rockets to prevent hail.
Sunday’s snow was the earliest for 21 years in Beijing, and came six weeks before the first snowfall last year. It had almost all gone by Monday morning, though; strong winds had blown it off the trees, and armies of municipal workers wielding broad bamboo twig brushes had swept it from the streets.
We’ll probably get a dusting or two of snow this winter, as usual. But if the rainmakers decide to work their magic again during another cold snap, I hope they will give us some advance warning. That way I can arrange a trip to the hills outside the city to go skiing.
How bad is China's drought? Click here for more on why 2,500 rockets were fired into the clouds in one week last winter.