July 19, 2007 — -- Should it unexpectedly start raining at anytime during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, don't blame the weathercaster -- blame the military.
In an effort to ensure clear skies during Asia's rainy season, Chinese meteorologists are planning to fire rockets into the sky to disperse rain clouds. Once the rockets are launched into the upper atmosphere, silver iodide and dry ice contained inside will detonate, and the resulting explosion could conceivably destroy rain clouds below.
William Brune, head of Penn State University's meteorology department, said the process is technically feasible, but he remains skeptical about its effectiveness.
"What this process is trying to do is distribute the water among the cloud to make it hard for the water molecules to come together to make rain drops," he said. "It is very hard to prove you've actually done anything at all, and there isn't any indisputable evidence that this actually works."
Weather modification is relatively an unknown science in the United States, because it is illegal. In Pennsylvania, it is even illegal to pursue an education on the subject of weather modification, Brune said.
Drills are expected to begin in Beijing within the next few days to re-create conditions that might be seen in August 2008 during the Olympics.
"As summer is a rainy season, this practice will become the focus of the meteorological services for the Games, which will be held in the same season next year," said Zheng Guogang, head of China's Meteorological Administration, in the state-run media outlet China Daily.
Firing off projectiles to control weather conditions is not uncommon in rain-deprived China. To compensate for droughts in the country's most arid region, officials fire rockets containing a different set of substances aimed at creating artificial rain.
Should this cloud-dispersing practice work, Beijing officials believe they can guarantee perfect weather for the summer Games.
So how ironclad is that guarantee?
"Under the right circumstances, they might make it work," Brune said.
The rain-stopping rocket measure undoubtedly tops a long list of the most extreme procedures for the country's Olympic Games preparation.
A recent Beijing ordinance calls for ordering around 1 million drivers "voluntarily" off the road for the 17-day duration of the Games to drastically cut the amount of pollution produced.
Chinese officials hope that the cars that remain will be driving on dry roads.