Weather Forecasting Plays Crucial Role in Beijing Olympics

06 August 2008

The World Meteorological Organization is coordinating efforts by China and other countries to provide accurate weather information for the upcoming Beijing Olympics.  WMO says China has installed a new geostationary satellite, at a cost of nearly $1 billion, which will enhance weather forecasting ability. Lisa Schlein reports from WMO headquarters in Geneva.

The success of the Beijing Olympics will largely be determined by athletic prowess and record setting results. But, Director of Research at the World Meteorological Organization, Leonard Barrie, tells VOA, the weather can make or break a sporting event.

"Weather affects the conditions in which the athletes have to perform," said Leonard Barrie. "A thunderstorm in the middle of a 100 yard dash is not very desirable, but inevitable in many cases."

As it turns out, thunderstorms are hard to predict. But, Barrie says other weather phenomena can be forecast with a great degree of accuracy several days in advance.

He says many countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Japan and the United States have expertise in weather forecasting and have brought their most sophisticated systems to Beijing. He says they are doing unique high resolution forecasting for the six to 36-hour period.

"They attempt to tell the organizers and the athletes and their managers what is expected as far as severe weather that would affect them-high winds and precipitation, rain," he said. "And then, on time scales from six to zero hours, we have something called the Now Casting project."  

In Now Casting, Barrie explains meteorologists use weather radar to locate where rain or thunderstorms may be occurring. With this information, he says it is possible to know when the bad weather can be expected to arrive in Beijing.

The Olympic organizers have said they would try certain measures to stop the rain from falling and spoiling championship events. Barrie pours cold water on this plan.

"Weather modification has very limited number of true successes on record," said Barrie.

So as not to throw a damper on the event, Barrie notes the weather forecast indicates that the opening day of the summer games will have very reasonable weather. But, he adds, he does not know whether there will be a thunderstorm. That, he say, is unpredictable.