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August 1, 2008

Forecasting Olympic weather

Posted: 09:42 AM ET

Like anxious parents trying to make sure everything is perfect for their child's wedding... organizers of the Beijing Olympics are pulling out all the stops to put on a good show for the world.

Nowcasting is underway at the Beijing Meteorology Bureau. Photo courtesy National Center for Atmospheric Research

To help deal with the horrendous pollution of the Chinese capital, new subway lines have just opened, factories have been shut down temporarily, and commuters are being forced to drive only every-other-day.

There are even some attempts to control the weather, with cloud seeding and other methods of weather modification. But while influencing the weather is still considered somewhat dicey in the scientific community, Chinese forecasters are keen on, at the very least, knowing what the weather conditions will be for every sporting event.

So the Beijing Meteorology Bureau has called in the cavalry, in the form of scientists from NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

NCAR meteorologist Jim Wilson is working with Chinese counterparts to help them master the art and science of "nowcasting."

"All it is is zero to six hours," said Wilson. "We're not just talking about forecasting scattered showers, but forecasting that at 2 pm there will be a thunderstorm at such and such a location," he said.

And if the thunderstorm is forecast for the Beijing National Stadium with tens of thousands of spectators, an accurate forecast of severe thunderstorms with lots of lightning could be extremely important. While their work may not have the drama of an Olympic diver doing a reverse one and a half somersault with two and a half twists, their success could certainly play a part in how successful, or at least how comfortably some of the events play out.

Wilson has traveled to Beijing numerous times over the past few years, training forecasters on the specifics of the "nowcast." Radars, satellites, and other tools are used to try and improve short-term forecasts. Wilson is a radar meteorologist who has pioneered the "Auto-nowcaster," a technique that combines numerical models and observational forecasting.

"One of the biggest issues of a forecast is predicting, when will it stop? Can we keep going with this event until the rain stops?" said Wilson. Sometimes that becomes a safety issue, as in the case of a large stadium with thousands of spectators, or if the event involves water, such as sailing or kayaking events.

Wilson did similar work with an international team of weather forecasters in Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Olympics.

He's is headed back to Beijing July 30. He'll spend a week shaking down specifics with Chinese forecasters before the pressure hits for Opening Ceremonies August 8.

Nowcasting isn't just for exotic global events like the Olympics.

It was first developed for aviation, helping solve the deadly problem of forecasting wind shear.

"It was a natural extension to carry this on to other parts of society," said Wilson.

NCAR works with the National Weather Service to develop nowcasting techniques for them, helping meteorologists better pinpoint the precise times and locations of thunderstorms.

Marsha Walton– CNN Science and Technology Producer

Filed under: Weather

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Franko   August 1st, 2008 1:36 pm ET

The "predicting, when will it stop?" tipping point question, is all too common.
Predicting the same as yesterday for today and tomorrow, has the best chanche.

Not as China does, is the best argument for more pollution controls.

Gene   August 2nd, 2008 9:07 am ET

The place is an armpit. They figure if people aren't dropping in the street, it's good. Compared to Beijing, and many other Asian cities, Los Angeles is pure as the driven snow. You can watch the pollution blow across the Pacific to the US nearly constantly.

Franko   August 2nd, 2008 11:01 am ET

Russians are building a giant aerosaol chamber to veryfy theories.
Testing extreme human survival, Chinese are living in one.

In addition to a sewer system, an air cleaning policy ?
Shower head, spraying from top of every building corner ?

Poor Chinese, slaves to the International Tapeworm, manufacturing while choking.
Centralized planning gone bad, the lesson, showcase in Olympic history.

Various survival skills of ancient times, added to, for the present reality.
A new competition to arise. Who can best predict the microclimate ?

Franko   August 2nd, 2008 11:23 am ET

Perhaps the moderator can delete this, and move here, the post below.
Barry Marshall July 29th, 2008 8:03 pm ET

Smog Images Suppressed in Beijing? No Webcams.

Has anyone out there tried to find a live webcam in Beijing? I cannot. One which I did find has been off the air for weeks. It suggests that the information police have removed them. Alternatively, since it is smoggy, they are not much use.
Personally, I never found that Beijing smog was such a problem for me, it looks worse than it is.
I did not have anywhere to post this. How about a follow-up story on CNN?

Gene   August 2nd, 2008 12:12 pm ET

Franko, some limited websites are open since yesterday – RSF is a good place to start . Don't know about cams, but maybe you can find something there.

Jim   August 3rd, 2008 9:34 am ET

China's pollution problem will taper off after the Olympics. People now see clearly that they've been producing for the world to earn a penny while choking like hell and be ridiculed by folks like CNN's Jack Cafferty. That said, there has to be some pollution, considering a transition from a medieval society to an industrialized society. With that in mind, you'd appreciate what a good job China has done.

Franko   August 3rd, 2008 9:59 am ET

Increasing number of engineers in China, soon, US will be the Medieval One.
Pollution, currently, the smell of financial priority to be replaced by near Utopia.

Without the Commie dictators, better than Taiwan ?

Corp. Executive   August 3rd, 2008 7:52 pm ET

No need for a webcam, there're plenty of sites out there with news feeds from CCTV where you can look at pollution when they report on other topics.

Franko   August 5th, 2008 4:00 am ET

Google images – CCTV building
Only a little smog in the background International Design representation.

Olympic medal for prediccting microclimate around CCTV building ?

Censored webcams, human rights abuse is pornography ?

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