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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 07/30/2008

Clean-Air Nightmare for Beijing Olympics

Wx and the City

By Ann Posegate

If I were an Olympic athlete with asthma, I'd be worried. With opening ceremonies just over a week away, smog has been covering the city of Beijing as of late, though recent wind and rain have made things better for the time being. Today's Code Orange air quality alert for D.C. seems minor compared to the air quality problem in Beijing (though caution should still be taken).

It seems that years of industrialization have taken their toll on Beijing's air quality. But Chinese officials have taken measures to reduce air pollution, such as temporarily shutting down factories and relocating others, reducing the number of government vehicles and trucks on the road, creating three new subway lines, and switching from coal to natural gas in some power plants.

The city has even instituted a two-month plan to restrict car use. I can't help but imagine the Washington metro area in this situation. Would the average Maryland or Virginia auto commuter be willing to drive only on alternate days for a two-month period?

Keep reading for more on Beijing's air quality. For local weather, see our full forecast into early next week.

This problem was realized as far back as seven years ago, when China's capital city won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics. The city made three major commitments: to monitor sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution on a daily basis; to improve air quality during the year leading up to the Olympics; and to ensure that the levels of these four pollutants meet World Health Organization standards during the Games. This third commitment has yet to be fulfilled.

To be fair, geography can exacerbate the air quality issue in Beijng, which is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The monsoon season also plays a role. Day-to-day weather conditions can both help and hurt the situation.

It can be expected that the city will begin to take even more drastic measures to attempt to control the weather and improve air quality leading up to and during the Games, including cloud-seeding, a technique that has had variable outcomes in the U.S., but may prove useful in triggering rain to fall on the outskirts of -- rather than in -- the Chinese capital during the Games. Another option is rescheduling some of the events if the air proves too unhealthy.

If you'd like to monitor Beijing's weather and air quality on your own over the coming weeks, here are a few Web sites to get you started.

Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau (current air quality observations through the Air Pollution Index, or API)

Beijing Olympics Meteorological Service Center (forecasts, warnings, climate background)

Beijing Climate Center

Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

By  |  10:45 AM ET, 07/30/2008

Categories:  International Weather, International Weather, International Weather

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