The Beijing Organising Committee made sure there was no rain on their opening parade by firing 1140 rockets from 21 sites around Beijing to disperse storm clouds. The communist authorities were taking no chances with Mother nature in their mission to impress the world.
Residents in nearby Hebei Province were doused instead, receiving the maximun rainfall of over 100mm on the day before the Olympic ceremony.
Shells, rockets, aircraft and hilltop burners are used to "seed" clouds with silver iodide or other chemicals that can either disperse moisture or make it fall earlier than it otherwise would.
Chinese authorities say the weather-tampering technology has alleviated water shortages and saved millions of yuan (money) for farmers, as large parts of China are permanently battling against severe droughts.
So popular is the rain-inducing technology that it has even sparked the so-called “rain-greed”—farmers fighting each other for rain.
The state-run China Daily newspaper cited a case in central Henan province where five neighbouring arid cities raced to cloud seed when the skies recently looked promising. The rain came for the quickest cities, but some local weather bureau officials in the slowest city, which received the least rain, have accused their counterparts of intercepting and overusing clouds.
The weather rockets are also commonly used on the eve of some big international events or dignitaries’ visit, reported ABC’s John Taylor a few years ago.
“It's uncanny living in Beijing how it rains on the eve of major events. Be it a big domestic event, or a visiting foreign politician, the rain has usually fallen the day before, making for temporary blue skies free of the normal haze,” Mr Taylor said on their PM programme.
No Money Spared
China’s Weather Modification Office, a division of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science, receives an annual budget of $US100m and employs between 35,000 to 37,000 people. Many of those are farmers who are payed $100 a month to shoot missiles into the sky.
Some estimates place China’s weather-controlling arsenal at 12,000 anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers in addition to about 30 planes. Between 1995 and 2003 alone over $US260m was spent on weather modification.
However, during the Olympics money does not seem to be a concern. The Financial Times quotes a senior official from Hubei province saying that they are not keeping track of spending on the effort for the Games. "Nobody is thinking about this at the moment: we'll consider it after the mission," he said.
While the officials boast of the recent Olympic achievement, some are voicing concern about the environmental damage the operation may have caused. Many scientists remain sceptical to the long-term side effects of cloud seeding.
Silver iodide has been found to be highly toxic to fish, livestock and humans. A key US manufacturer of silver iodide for weather modification, Deepwater Chemicals, warns of potential health effects of silver iodide.
Humans absorb silver iodide through the lungs, nose, skin, and gastro-intestinal tract, causing mild toxicity, kidney and lung lesions. Severe toxicity can result in internal bleeding, shock, enlarged heart and death by respiratory depression.
It has also never been proven to be safe to breathe and is known to react violently with water, forming explosive mixtures.
Cloud seeding has also been blamed for triggering landslides. Some have led to mining accidents, such as the 2005 one in Jiaohe County, Jilin Province. The flooding was believed to be caused by artificially-induced rainfall.