Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Real or fake, Beijing's snow makes a pretty picture

On Sunday Beijing was blanketed with snow. It seemed to come as a shock and a surprise for may Beijingers. In the office on Thursday a declaration that it would snow on Sunday was met with derision. "Is that from the Western propaganda weather machine?" a Chinese colleague retorted while laughing. On the Monday he had to eat his words. And many spoke of being caught out as temperatures dropped to as low as -9 degrees Celsius. "I was so cold later," one young chap said. Many were unaware that the arctic conditions were predicted at least by several foreign news sources. On Thursday tvnewswatch posted a tweet warning of low temperatures and snow, prompted by various weather reports. However Xinhua, nor Beijing's weather services failed to warn the public of the white stuff heading towards the capital. In fact it spoke of rain and temperatures above freezing!

By Sunday morning at around 02:00 hours, Beijing time, flurries of snow were swirling in the air and by the morning Beijing was white. The airport seized up, with many flights cancelled, and roads in central Beijing were gridlocked for much of the morning. While children were enjoying the snow, building snowmen and engaging in snowball fights with their parents, others were far from amused at having been plunged into the depths of winter. Cyclists struggled along icy streets in blizzard conditions while holding umbrellas. Rickshaw drivers grimaced as they drove through the cold wind and motorists blasted their horns in vain as they sat in motionless traffic.
In the heart the city flower displays, set up for National Day a month ago, lay beneath a frosty covering of snow and Chinese lanterns looked more like Christmas decorations with their icy coating. Many of the trees also gave a feeling that it was December with fir trees resembling Christmas trees. Away from the traffic there was an almost magical feeling in Beijing's parks. Jingshan Park's pagodas glistened in the late autumn sunshine as flocks of birds flew around them. Children and adults were out in force taking pictures, enjoying the scenery and building snowmen. There was even a snow-pig which attracted many to pose by it for photographs.

The heavy snow also brought some destruction in it's wake. Many branches broke under the weight of the snow and workers busily shook snow from trees around the park to prevent further damage. They need not have bothered since by the late afternoon much of Beijing's icy covering had melted away. Except for a few heaps of snow swept to the edges of roads and pavements, by Monday there was little evidence of the winter weather that had descended on the city.

But then came the suggestion that the weather was not as a result of nature but due to interference by Chinese scientists. According to several reports 168 doses of silver iodide had been used to "seed" the clouds and bring the snow in order to alleviate drought conditions. Although widely reported, there was also some skepticism expressed in western media. While it is true that seeding clouds can create precipitation, it is not a precise science. It may not be that safe given crops will be saturated with silver compounds. It is almost as though, to save face from not having properly predicted the snow, it was better to say the authorities made made it snow with the help of the Beijing Weather Modification Service. Whether real, fake or modified, it was no consolation for hundreds of passengers stranded at Beijing International Airport, though it was rather pretty if not a little cold.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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