Rockets stop grey skies raining on parade

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 October, 2009, 12:00am

Hours before the People's Liberation Army showed off its latest kit in Tiananmen Square, its rockets were urgently called upon to stop some unexpected clouds from raining on the parade.

Almost one million yuan (HK$1.14 million) in iodine particles were blasted into the sky above the capital, allowing the state leaders and the public down on the ground to enjoy the celebrations in glorious sunshine.

After dodging for weeks public questions about a precise weather forecast, the mainland's weather authorities breezily announced on Tuesday that Beijing would be blessed with favourable weather.

No sooner did the good news spread than the clouds began to gather. A day later, the city was bathed in a thick, low fog.

Just to make things more miserable, it started to drizzle at about 10pm on Wednesday evening, which was enough to stop retired air force radar officer Chen Side from sleeping.

'I couldn't help recalling Deng Xiaoping's parade in 1984. Everything was magnificent until the air force came. There was thunder in the sky but that was it. I couldn't see the planes because they were flying above the clouds,' Chen said.

When he got up yesterday morning, however, the rain had gone.

The fog had dissipated. The sky was still cloudy but as he opened the window, a gentle but persistent breeze was blowing from the west.

A western wind in the morning was always a sign of good weather.

'I can't help admiring those weather fellows. You need to have some brains and guts to tell the future,' he said.

But just as Chen was breathing a sigh of relief, weather authorities were in a sweat, according to China Weather, a newspaper of the China Meteorological Administration.

At 7.20am, a few clouds showed up on the weather radar screen to the west of Beijing. Experts were worried not only because the clouds were cumulus congestus, heralding unstable weather, but also because of the enormous scale and rapid speed of their formation.

Worst of all, they were moving towards Tiananmen Square, which they had promised state leaders would be a safe zone.

Ten minutes later, 432 rockets were fired from different locations in four waves. They exploded in the heart of the clouds, each spraying more than 250 million silver iodide particles that, according to Professor Fang Chungang , a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science, have a crystalline structure similar to ice.

Fang said that the more silver iodide was used, the more water molecules would gather around them and fall in the form of rain.

The agent is generally considered environmentally friendly and not harmful to humans. However, it does not come cheap.

With each rocket costing about 2,000 yuan, according to mainland media reports, the price of yesterday's operation approached one million yuan.

A few minutes after the rocket launch, the clouds quickly disappeared from the radar screen.

Much to the relief of weather authorities - and state bean counters - no more clouds appeared for the rest of the day.

The number of rockets fired was less than before the opening ceremony of the Olympics last year, when more than 1,000 were used.