Beijing gets long-awaited snow

First precipitation in 106 days in China's capital as drought threatens crucial wheat crops in the country's northeast.

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    The snowfall is the first precipitation in China's capital for more than 100 days [EPA] 

    Beijing has finally seen some snow.

    This is the first time they've seen any precipitation at all since 26 October, and it's not just Beijing. Six provinces in the northeast of the country are in the grip of a drought, and this is the heart of the wheat-growing region.

    China is the world’s largest wheat producer and despite temperatures dropping down to an average of minus 10 Celsius in January, 18 per cent of global wheat production is grown in this region in winter.

    Winter wheat is sown in mid-September or October and harvested in mid-May or June. Normally it only takes around 120 days to grow, but during the frigid temperatures between December and February, winter wheat lies dormant. A coating of snow should protect the plants from the severity of the Chinese winter, but this year there hasn't been any.

    IN PICTURES

    Without this layer of snow the plants are vulnerable and soil moisture levels are affected. At least this winter has been fairly mild so far. The real concern is that the temperature might dip or the drought will continue into the spring growing season.

    The Chinese Government has claimed that Thursday’s snowfall was thanks to its manipulation of the weather. It is reporting to have fired silver iodide particles into the skies, which act as nuclei allowing raindrops to form, a technique known as cloud-seeding.

    Cloud-seeding is a practice which has been known of for many years, but experiments to verify it have been inconclusive. It is also a controversial technique, as there is a finite amount of moisture in the atmosphere and making it rain in one place will reduce the rain elsewhere. In this case the results have been minimal: 3cm of snow is the equivalent to 3mm of rain. Clearly this is not enough to break the drought.

    But this is the dry season, you wouldn't expect much rain in February: The average is only 5mm. This isn't the time of year when nature is likely to give sufficient rain to break a drought, with or without cloud seeding.

    Now the government will spend $1bn to try to alleviate the drought in other ways, including diverting waterways and building emergency wells. As the largest producer of wheat, if China’s crops fail, this would affect food prices throughout the globe.

    The writer is Al Jazeera's senior meteorologist.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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