To combat the record-breaking drought affecting China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has deployed two large drones for cloud seeding in the southwestern Sichuan Province.
The record heatwave in China has engulfed nearly half of the country, with the situation developing in severity in Sichuan, one of the country’s main producers of hydropower and responsible for generating energy for cities like Shanghai, which is over 1,000 miles away from the province. (Related: Drought causes large parts of Yangtze River to dry up, reducing hydropower generation and causing shipping delays.)
Sichuan’s hydropower plants are operating below 50 percent of their regular capacity, leading to power cuts in the province. The exceptionally dry weather has also damaged crops and could hurt the fall harvest, which would make China compete for exports in the international markets and drive up already high food prices.
The extreme weather in China has persisted for over two months and has also started to affect Chinese industrial activity and economic growth. Factories of major manufacturers like auto giant Toyota and semiconductor producer Foxconn have already suspended some of their operations in Sichuan.
But Iris Pang, ING chief economist for Greater China, noted that while the drought is exceptional for its effect on the Yangtze River, last year’s heat wave was worse and led to more widespread power cuts.
“We have yet to see factory suspensions in key cities, which is a relief to the government as the economy is already weak,” said Pang, estimating that the power shortage has only impacted around one percent of China’s gross domestic product so far.
To improve the situation, the CCP has tasked two Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles for cloud seeding operations. The drones, with a maximum payload capacity of 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds), will be repurposed to drop ice-forming agents like silver iodides into existing clouds that already contain ample moisture. According to CCP-owned People’s Daily, the drones will be dropping silver iodide “flame bars” to help create artificial rain in Sichuan.
China has been known to employ weather-controlling technologies for over a decade now, using cloud seeding to water-parched crop fields and lower temperatures in blisteringly hot cities. Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the CCP reportedly dispatched planes filled with silver iodide bombs to make it rain so that the skies are clear for the sporting event.
The first flights of the Wing Loong II drones began on Aug. 25, according to state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). The flights are being coordinated by the China Meteorological Administration’s Weather Modification Center and the Sichuan Meteorological Bureau.
The drones are expected to cover an area in Sichuan spanning 3,000 square kilometers (2,317 square miles). Both the Weather Modification Center and the local meteorological bureau will be monitoring meteorological conditions and will decide whether or not to continue operations after the drones have cloud-seeded the entirety of their original operational boundaries.
Along with the cloud-seeding drones, local authorities have also fired dozens of rockets filled with silver iodide and other cloud-seeding chemicals.
CCTV has already reported the devastating effects of the cloud seeding operations. In Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, the temperature fell to 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Many parts of the province have already been put under flood alerts as heavy rains began hitting following the start of the cloud seeding operations, forcing local officials to relocate over 30,000 people living in the most flood-prone areas.
Watch this clip from the Guardian showing how large swathes of the Yangtze River are drying up.
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