The residents of China’s capital rose in surprise this weekend to a city blanketed by the heaviest snowfall seen in recent years and the earliest occurrence of snow since 1987.
And for once, global warming was not to blame for the bizarre, unexpected change in weather — 186 rockets of silver iodide were.
China’s weather-modifying meteorologists, who have already made headlines for their rain-dispersing achievements on display during last year’s Olympics, said on Monday they fired 186 doses of silver iodide into clouds on Saturday night to induce the snowfall.
The idea was to increase precipitation and bring relief to the drought-affected northern parts of the country.
“We wont miss any opportunity of artificial precipitation since Beijing is suffering from the lingering drought,” said Zhang Qiang, head of the Weather Modification Office. She said more than 16 million tonnes of snow had been “artificially added”.
Vast areas across China, estimated at 800,000 hectares of farmland, have been suffering from drought this year, which has been especially severe in the north of the country. Officials said they had targeted clouds over drought-affected wheat growing areas to increase precipitation. Arid provinces like Anhui received over 1.5 inches of rainfall over the weekend, officials said, bringing much needed relief.
The weather modifying efforts seemingly worked, but almost too well. A cold front that descended over north China on Sunday resulted in more than expected snow and widespread disruptions to air and rail travel. In some areas, temperatures fell by more than 20 degrees Celsius overnight.
In Beijing, more than a hundred flights were delayed, while some roads were snowed in, so not everyone was pleased. “My flight was delayed by five hours,” said Li Shen, a local who had to cancel her travel plans. “Maybe the weather office should pay for my plane tickets now.”