This morning I woke before five a.m., to the sound of blasts and bangs and thunderbolts and falling rain. It wasn't the first time I've heard these sounds together, but usually I hear them in the evening.
China places great weight on what happens at the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games. Landmark stadiums and dormitories and a variety of other buildings (including the much-admired CCTV tower) have been built over the last several years, replacing traditional dwellings and other structures, all to showcase how modern the country is becoming. Billions of dollars and the efforts of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have been aimed towards making the event successful, even down to the weather. The government is not willing to risk rain at the games, especially during the opening ceremonies or other high profile events, and has a multi-million dollar Weather Modification Department ready to combat rainclouds.
The Chinese have had programs to manipulate the weather for several decades now. The science usually involves seeding clouds with silver iodide or liquid nitrogen. For the last several years the government has been preparing for the Olympics by practicing their response to possible rainclouds. One positive effect of these man-made storms is that they temporarily clean Beijing's notoriously smoggy air, making it easier to breathe.