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The Chinese government's weather-control programme, more accustomed to bringing down rains on parched crops, has announced a new and ambitious mission. The People's Republic is due to host the Summer Olympics next year, and if the weather dares to defy the commies it will be brought into line by force.

The Asia Times reports that Zhang Qiang, "the top weather-modification bureaucrat in Beijing", has said her office has been experimenting for the past two years with methods of ensuring a blue sky for the Chinese capital in August '08.

China's normal rain-bringer forces operate on lines not unlike the British Territorial Army or US National Guard. Chinese farmers turn out part-time to shoot silver-iodide shells and rockets into passing clouds, which supposedly makes them turn into rain. The People's rainmakers number 32,000 nationwide, and they have a formidable arsenal of 7,100 anti-aircraft guns, 4,991 "special rocket launchers", and 30 aircraft.

"Ours is the largest artificial weather program in the world in terms of equipment, size, and budget," Wang Guanghe, director of the Weather Modification Department, told the Asia Times. The communist cloud-punching weekend warriors have an annual budget between US$60m and $90m, apparently. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, says 250 billion tonnes of rain was artificially created between 1999 and 2006.

Of course, there's a price to be paid. Despite the fact that the part-time precipitation peasantry undergo "intensive training, lasting several weeks, before they are let loose on the artillery", the Asia Times reports that "cloud-seeding shells and rockets have sometimes gone astray, damaging homes and injuring inhabitants. Only last year a passer-by in the municipality of Chongqing was killed..."

Presumably, the cloud-busting cannonade will be delivered well upwind of the actual Olympic facilities next year, minimising the chances of the athletes and spectators being mown down by stray rounds in an inadvertent silver-iodide barrage. Anyway, the commies say the accident rate is way down over the last few years.

Zhang says that normally there would be a 50 per cent chance of "drizzle" in Beijing next August, but she's quietly confident that her crack force of regional rain-busters can eliminate that. But the commissar of the clouds warns that even the People's Republic isn't infallible.

"A heavy downpour will be impossible to combat," she said. "We try our best, but there are no guarantees of success."

Much more from the Asia Times here. ®

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