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 August 12, 2013
China tries £20m hi-tech raindance as country roasts in heatwave

 China is spending £20m to artificially trigger rain, helping farmers whose crops are suffering because of the scorching summer weather.

In scenes reminiscent of the 1985 Kate Bush song Cloudbusting, the ministry of finance announced on Thursday that it had allocated 199m yuan from central funds to the drought-easing measures, which involve firing silver iodide or dry ice into clouds. The process is known as cloud seeding, and was used to increase the chance good weather for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

A heatwave across central and eastern China has led to drinking water shortages for almost 3 million people in Jiangxi and Hubei and hit crops. On Wednesday, Shanghai had its hottest day since records began 140 years ago, with temperatures soaring to 40.8C, and authorities issued a fifth red alert warning for further extreme heat. Local media published pictures of prawns and meat cooking in pans set on manhole covers.

At least 10 people have died in Shanghai's heatwave, while officials say Hunan and Chongqing have each seen three deaths from heatstroke.

Electricity output soared to an all-time high in China last month with experts blaming increased use of air conditioners, and some areas in the south have complained of power failures.

Ma Xuekuan, chief forecaster of the national meteorological office, said temperatures across the south should begin to drop from 13 August but might remain above 35C in some areas.

But while some areas are struggling to cope with the lack of rain and the drying up of water sources, others have endured downpours. Last month, at least 44 people died in severe flooding and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed after heavy rainfall in areas including Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, in the south-west. In Heilongjiang, in the north-east, workers have increased flood protection measures after weeks of heavy rain.

Scientists say that while individual weather events cannot be attributed to global warming, the risk of extreme weather is rising.

Lin Erda, a member of the national expert committee on climate change and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said: "The chances of high temperature and precipitation are continuously increasing in China, [but] it is hard for climate experts to predict how or in what degree."

He said he believed artificial precipitation would be effective in some areas, but noted that it worked only under certain conditions.

"In the long run, we can only prepare to deal with climate change, and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to slow down global warm."

Li Weijing, another climate expert, told the state news agency, Xinhua, that extreme weather events were becoming more frequent and that climate change would cause China's rain belt to move north in the summer.

Jiang Tong, a research fellow with the China Meteorological Administration's national climate centre, told the Global Times that many cities were not prepared for such severe weather at present. He said development plans should include details of how to manage such conditions.