Weather chief admits failures but vows problems will be tackled

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2008, 12:00am

The chief of the mainland's weather forecasting service has admitted that meteorologists failed to predict the scale, duration and impact of last month's massive snowstorms.

Addressing a convention of the nation's leading meteorologists on Thursday, China Meteorological Administration director Zheng Guoguang said it failed to foresee that the natural catastrophe would last more than 20 days.

And it had had no idea how to estimate the magnitude of its impact.

It was Beijing's first admission of the country's weakness in extreme weather predictions, a belated but essential gesture that some analysts say signals the central government is tackling the issue.

Dr Zheng disclosed that they could not forecast beyond five days, according to the China News Service.

The administration was also unable to assess the likely damage caused by the low temperatures, the continued snow and the ice brought by the snowstorms, which severely hampered traffic, transport and agricultural production.

Dr Zheng said the central government would summon resources for research programmes to extend the range of precise weather forecasting from three days to up to a month.

Meanwhile, the administration would collaborate with transport authorities to establish an ice-monitoring network along the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway. Joint studies with electricity departments would also provide clues to build up more durable and ice-resistant power infrastructure.

Beijing's sudden interest and generosity has won positive feedback from experts set to benefit from the funding windfall.

Ren Fumin , a La Nina expert and deputy director of the administration's climate diagnosis department, said his research field had been regarded as of little importance and received little funding.

'[But] the attitude is rapidly changing now,' Mr Ren said. 'At present we only have a vague, macro understanding of La Nina's impact on East Asia. The detail of how it works is still a theory. Therefore we have a lot of work to do.'

Yang Xiuqun , a professor at Nanjing University's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, agreed that much research remained to be done. 'Any prediction that goes beyond two weeks is no longer dealing with weather, but climate issues. Any precise forecast of climate activities is extremely complicated and difficult. It is not only China's big challenge, but also the world's,' Professor Yang said.

'Today our prediction within three days is very precise. With a bit of effort we can stretch it longer, to a week. But things beyond that belong to a quite different realm.'

Wei Jie , a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Atmospheric Physics, said disasters were usually followed by research into their causes.

'Natural disasters push the advancement of science forward. There is no surprise this time,' she said.