The lone war­riors — cloud seed­ing along the China bor­der

China Daily (USA) - - XINJIANG - By XIN­HUA in Urumqi

As the heavy, dark cloud crept ever closer, Musa Rah­mi­t­ulla’s fam­ily knew he would not be com­ing home that night. Musa, 51, is a weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion ex­pert based in Zhaosu county, North­west China’s Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, which bor­ders Kaza­khstan. Over the past 30 years, he has spent ev­ery rainy sea­son ob­serv­ing the sky and load­ing his hail can­non with sil­ver io­dine packed shells to dis­rupt un­fa­vor­able weather fronts.

The rugged to­pog­ra­phy of Zhaosu, Musa’s home­town, is known for the of­ten-dis­as­trous ef­fects of its weather sys­tem. To pro­tect the re­gion’s pro­duc­tive farm­land, from late May to late Oc­to­ber, the rainy sea­son, Musa and his 84 co­work­ers man the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal front line.

Musa re­tired from the army 30 years ago. In his words, weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion is just another kind of bat­tle. “To win the bat­tle, you have to be ex­pe­ri­enced,” he said.

“There are so many vari­ables — wind di­rec­tion, the thick­ness of the cloud, and most im­por­tantly, tim­ing,” Musa said, adding that his can­non is of­ten loaded and ready to be dis­charged be­fore the storm ar­rives. “If you leave it too late, it is less ef­fec­tive.”

Some­times, ex­pe­ri­ence is more use­ful than tech­ni­cal de­vices. On one af­ter­noon in late July, Musa fired 120 shells at a cloud for­ma­tion, de­spite the fact that the weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion depart­ment deemed the cloud to be “no big deal”, based on radar data.

“I could sense the se­ri­ous­ness just from the way the clouds had ac­cu­mu­lated mass, not to men­tion the ac­com­pa­ny­ing light­ning,” he re­called.

Thanks to Musa’s trig­ger-happy de­ci­sion, the hail only dam­aged about 35 per­cent of the wheat yield of 20 hectares. “If he had not acted in time, the con­se­quences would have been much worse,” said Wang Wei, head of Qa­gan Usu town­ship.

Not ev­ery team mem­ber is as ex­pe­ri­enced as Musa. Keen to make a life change, he quit weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion to take up farm­ing in 2001. His re­place­ment made a dis­as­trous mis­judg­ment, lead­ing to a storm that dec­i­mated 4,000 hectares of farm­land.

“After such huge losses, the farm­ers pe­ti­tioned the town­ship govern­ment,

Musa Rah­mi­t­ulla, weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion ex­pert

call­ing for Musa to be re­in­stated,” Wang re­called.

Cloud seed­ing and hail man­age­ment is dull and lonely work. For much of the sum­mer and fall, the re­gion’s most beau­ti­ful sea­sons, Musa and his col­leagues are sta­tioned in fields. They stand like sen­tinels; alone, watch­ing and guard­ing around the clock.

It is also a dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sion. In 2011, Musa frac­tured his left foot after his 60 kg loader fell while he was main­tain­ing his can­non. About three years ago, another can­non op­er­a­tor in a neigh­bor­ing town­ship was killed while he was try­ing to dis­lodge a shell out of a can­non.

Yu Jian­bin, di­rec­tor of Zhaosu county weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion of­fice, ex­plained that the county has 17 can­nons and 32 rocket launch­ers dis­trib­uted at 19 sta­tions across 60,000 hectares of farm­land. “What­ever de­vices we pos­sess, our canon op­er­a­tor’s ex­pe­ri­ence is the most val­ued item in our arse­nal,” he said.

Among the 11 can­non op­er­a­tors in Qa­gan Usu, only three, Musa and his two ap­pren­tices, have more than 10 years of ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Op­er­a­tors come and go, they strug­gle with the iso­la­tion and low pay,” Wang said. Each op­er­a­tor earns about 3,000 yuan ($450) for each of the five rainy months ev­ery year.

Be­ing a can­non op­er­a­tor is more than just a job, with it comes great re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“Our split-sec­ond de­ci­sions can af­fect the lives of many fam­i­lies,” he said. “I won’t al­low our mis­takes to ruin peo­ple’s lives.”

I could sense the se­ri­ous­ness just from the way the clouds had ac­cu­mu­lated mass, not to men­tion the ac­com­pa­ny­ing light­ning.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.