Even the Weather Can’t Escape China’s Censors

May 3, 2015 Updated: May 3, 2015

Clouds of censorship are gathering over Chinese weather watchers with the Communist regime’s release of new regulations to control weather forecasting.

The “Meteorological Forecasting and Propagation Management Law,” which went into effect on May 1, makes it illegal for any nonofficial organization or individual to report the weather. Violators face fines of up to 50,000 yuan (about $8,000).

Many young Chinese check the weather using phone apps or on social media such as Sina Weibo, where they can get third-party information.

A man surnamed Zhou told the Chinese newspaper Modern Express that people of his generation distrust official weather reporting. “This new law makes the National Meteorological Center look unconfident,” he said.

“My parents’ generation like to read the newspaper and watch TV to know the weather forecast, but I basically rely on Weibo and Wechat,” Zhou said.

Yu Xinwen, deputy director of the National Meteorological Center, told Chinese media that the new legislation was passed to avoid confusion and any other negative effects resulting to multiple weather forecast sources.

Netizens and weather enthusiasts, though, are concerned that the regime intends to use the law to manipulate forecasting and prevent the spread of genuine climate information. China’s air pollution is an increasingly sensitive topic of discussion in Chinese society.

“What if the official weather forecast is inaccurate? Will they pay any compensation?” one sarcastic comment reads.

Chinese rights lawyer Li Xiangyang told the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television that the law to ban third-party weather reporting will cover up two significant types of data: smog conditions and earthquake forewarning.

Though earthquakes are notoriously difficult to predict, Chinese scientists and local officials have had some notable successes. In 1975, scientists in Haicheng, a city of 1 million in northeast China, predicted a magnitude-7.3 earthquake. Local officials evacuated the city, saving tens or hundreds of thousands of lives.

Just the next year, however, a magnitude-7.8 quake hit the city of Tangshan, also in north China, on July 28, killing between 240,000 and 650,000 people. Though scientists from the State Seismological Bureau had predicted the disaster two weeks prior, only one county in the area, Qinglong, took the reports seriously. Against higher authorities, the local Party secretary risked his political career to evacuate Qinglong’s 470,000 residents.