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Beijing haunted by growing weather concerns
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In the final month before the Games, Beijing rested two thirds of government vehicles, and imposed a traffic ban on private cars with odd and even number plates on alternate days as of July 20. The policy cut the number of cars hitting Beijing roads every day by about two million.

Other pre-Games environment measures included closing polluting factories in Beijing and some neighboring provinces, suspension of most urban construction projects, and removal of vehicles failing to meet emission standards. The most significant step over the years, however, was a thorough relocation of the gigantic Capital Steel company which used to occupy a large area in west Beijing.

"We did see more sunny days and bluer skies since the beginning of July. It's really weird that the trend seemed to take a reverse over the past week despite the new traffic ban," said He Xin, 35, an office lady who is a native of Beijing.

It was all the treacherous weather to blame, explained the city's environment watchdog, adding that some critical progress in pollution reduction might be invisible to the public, but well supported by monitoring data.

Ever since the traffic ban, the density of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matters in the city air has kept falling, scoring a 20-percent year-on-year decrease, said Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

"Despite the haze factor, the capital's daily pollution reading remained at Level II, or fairly good on Monday," said Du, citing the national air quality monitoring report.

"It's just like in a public sauna room -- maybe you can't see clearly afar, but it's not because of pollution," he quipped.

When it rains and the air cools down, the city would see clearer skies, the official predicted.

The meteorological bureau supported the prediction by saying that in the following week starting from Monday, Beijing will see frequent rainfalls again, perhaps in five out of the seven days.

It is certainly good news to environment officials and those who hate the haze and heat, but for Zhang Yimou, chief director of the Games' opening ceremony, it means disaster.

Zhang, who is heading a team of elite artists designing and preparing the ceremony in top secrecy, has repeatedly said that rain was what he feared most as it could easily ruin the long-practiced performance set to be staged in the roofless national stadium, the Bird's Nest.

The ceremony is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. on Aug 8, and historical data indicate a 41 percent precipitation chance on that date. It was reported that the Beijing organizers had proposed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to kick off the Games, ideally on Aug 15, but the final decision from the IOC left Beijing no choice but to prevent any possible rainfall, at least around the sky of the Bird's Nest.

Currently, the Beijing weather engineering office, under the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau, is carrying out an Olympic weather modification project.

Assisted by satellite monitoring, the office will apply the latest cloud seeding technologies to prevent rain from falling during the three and half hours -- from 8:08 p.m. to around 11:30 p.m. -- onto the Bird's Nest.

It's still hard to say whether this project will work or not. However, as Zhang's team is reportedly holding a full dress rehearsal of the ceremony at the end of the month, a testing ground may be offered to the cloud seeders as well if it happens to rain.

(Xinhua News Agency July 29, 2008)

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