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July 25th, 2008:

Beijing Pollution Could Be Deadly To Olympic Spectators

OLYMPIC WEATHERMAN – Meteorologist Doug Charko is part of Canada’s Beijing team

Daphne Bramham – Canwest News Service – Friday, July 25, 2008

Beijing pollution could be deadly to Olympic spectators, a headline in the Los Angeles Times screamed earlier this week.

It was based on a study by researchers from Northwestern University who found that particles spewed from diesel trucks, buses and coal-burning factories – small particles one-tenth the diameter of human hair – inflame the lungs, which then secrete interleukin-6. That causes blood to coagulate and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Few will be watching the air quality and climate conditions more closely than Doug Charko, who never imagined he would be on the Canadian Olympic team.

It’s because of his specialized skills that he’ll be proudly wearing the red, white and gold uniform in China. Charko is Team Canada’s meteorologist.

That’s right. The Canadian Olympic team has its own weatherman. It’s probably as much as surprise to you as it is to Charko.

“As a meteorologist, you expect to go to a government office and from your government job forecast weather for people’s picnics,” the Regina native said in a telephone interview from New Zealand where he now lives.

“To do the forecasting for the whole team and for Canada and to be involved at this level as part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s performance-enhancement team is a huge privilege.”

Charko will be providing 10-day forecasts of temperature, humidex and air quality. The Chinese government’s website ( now provides current data and three-day forecasts. But there have been questions raised whether the data are accurate.

“Everyone is competing in the same conditions. The difference in knowing is just that – knowing,” says Charko.

Over the past two years, he’s gathered data and studied historic trends. Despite China’s heavy investment in cleaner power generation, Charko says there’s only been a “minuscule trend downward” in pollution. What will determine the extent of the smog is literally which way the wind blows. If it’s from the northwest, Charko says, the air will be “fantastically clean.” But there’s no guarantee of that and no guarantee it won’t rain despite the much-publicized plan to seed rain clouds to avoid downpours spoiling the opening and closing ceremonies.

“It is actual science (cloud seeding) and it does work on a small scale,” he says. “You can shoot rockets into individual clouds. That puts dust particles into the cloud and it makes it rain. But you can only do that on a small scale.”

August is Beijing’s rainiest month with lots of thunderstorms. Charko predicts five to seven days of showers during the Games with “coolish” temperatures, about 23 degrees, rather than the low 30s with humidity pushing it up into the low 40s.

Hong Kong, where the equestrian events are being held, will be worse – hotter, more humid and more thunderstorms, all of which are bad news especially for the horses.

Of course, most of Charko’s attention will be focused on forecasting wind on the Yellow Sea near Qingdao where the sailors compete. It’s how he came to the attention of the Canadian team.

He was first hired by an America’s Cup team. Then, in 1994 after moving to New Zealand, Charko worked as the meteorologist for the Brazilian sailing team at the Olympics in Sydney and again during the Athens Games.

In 2006, his home country came calling. The Canadian Yachting Association believed having a meteorologist forecasting wind and wind shifts was the secret of Britain’s success in the past two Summer Games.

In Athens, Britain not only had a meteorologist, it had weather stations on boats around the course, pumping out information that was relayed by coaches to sailors using hand signals.

It resulted in a furor and the International Sailing Federation banning forecasting equipment from the course and forcing coaches’ boats to be kept within what Charko calls “the penalty box.”

Charko is a bit of a contrarian, which could be a huge benefit to Canada’s team. He’s forecasting winds of up to 15 knots on four to six of the 14 days that the Olympic regatta is held. When he was there last August for the test regatta, there was one day with 25-knot winds and 10 foot seas. “You just can’t assume that the winds will be three kilometers every day.”

But that’s what some other countries’ sailors have prepared for, trimming their weight by as much as 10 pounds even if it costs them strength. The Canadians have not.

And so far, Charko’s been lucky in another way. None of his equipment has been confiscated.

Two years ago when the Brits set up a weather station in Qingdao, the Chinese secret police accused them of conducting “illegal meteorological surveys” and seized $37,000 worth of the equipment. It has yet to be returned.

The Chinese have also seized weather instruments from the American and Australian teams. They finished first and fourth, respectively, in total sailing medals in 2004, while China came second.

It’s led some people to speculate that at least in this case, China is more concerned about Olympic medals than state security.

Who knew that meteorologists might be worth their weight in gold?

Extreme Traffic Measure As Air Worsens

Capital may resort to more extreme traffic measure as air worsens

Al Guo – Updated on Jul 25, 2008 – SCMP

Beijing’s pollution pledge took another hit yesterday as its air went from bad to worse because of unfavourable weather, prompting environmental officials to consider more extreme traffic rules.

Yesterday was the fifth day of odd-even restrictions, which took half of the city’s 3.3 million private vehicles off the road. Drivers may use their cars on alternate days, depending on the last digit of their number plates.

But the measure’s inability to improve air quality has become a source of frustration. Residents only had to look out their windows to realise air quality had worsened, with visibility in many urban areas down to about 200 metres.

Beijing’s composite air pollution index rose to 113, following readings of 50 to 70 on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and 89 on Wednesday. A reading between 100 and 200 is defined as having the potential to severely affect people with respiratory problems and make breathing difficult for most other people.

Environmental official Li Xin attributed the problem to the weather. “The air just does not move … There is nothing we can do to change weather conditions.”

The municipal environmental protection bureau has the power to take more cars off the road, and a bureau source said it was considering that option. The source said an extreme plan, which allowed cars to be driven only when the last digit of their number plate corresponded with the date (such as 5 on the 25th), could be used today.

“They may implement it whenever they consider the air quality has become too bad,” the source said.

The move would take 90 per cent of private vehicles off the road and greatly reduce exhaust fumes. Taxis, buses and government vehicles are covered by different restrictions.

Environmental analyst Zhu Tong said the extreme traffic ban was very close to becoming a reality. “There are still traffic jams on city roads despite the odd-even restriction, and I think it’s legitimate to take more cars off the road if we give the highest priority to air quality.”

Air quality has been a constant thorn in the side for the host city, and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge had said some endurance events would have to be rescheduled if air quality threatened the health of athletes.

There is no universally agreed standard on how much air pollution can harm an athlete in competition.

Environment bureau deputy director Du Shaozhong said the pledge was in line with World Health Organisation standards – that developing countries contain their airborne particulates under 150 micrograms per cubic metre. The standard is low compared with Japanese or European Union requirements but on a par with the US. When the pollution index reached 113, the particulates were only between 90 to 110 per cubic metre.

Ocean Winds Credited With Clearing Skies

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jul 25, 2008 – SCMP

The rainy day blues of last month now seem a distant memory, dispelled by Hong Kong’s recent run of blue skies and clear views.

With temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius and ambient air pollution readings hovering between low and medium, visibility has been excellent. At Chek Lap Kok, which is often shrouded in smog, the visibility yesterday was more than 35km.

The fine spell is not unusual for July. Last year, July saw a 20-day spell of fine, clear weather due to an exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure over southeastern China.

The Environmental Protection Department said prevailing southerly winds and the convection effect from the hot weather had helped disperse pollutants and bring fresher air from the sea this month.

“Apart from the fine weather, the measures implemented over the past years have also contributed to better air quality,” a department spokesman said.

However, the department’s own figures show that readings from general pollution-monitoring stations have been high – meaning an air pollution index of 100 or more – for 499 hours, up 12 per cent on the same period last year. The number of hours of high readings from roadside pollution-monitoring stations is up 15 per cent on the same period last year, at 497 hours.

The department said the public should interpret air pollution data cautiously because it only revealed a partial picture of air quality, which was affected by various factors.

Tsang Kam-lam, of the Hong Kong Productivity Council, which has been promoting clean production methods among Hong Kong manufacturers in the Pearl River Delta, said he believed the blue skies had little to do with the closure of factories across the border because of mainland policy changes and rising operating costs. “The good weather is a direct result of southerly winds which visit us every summer,” he said.

He also said he had not heard of any delta factories being required to adjust their production ahead of next month’s Olympics.

Speaking after a forum at the Hong Kong Book Fair, Undersecretary for the Environment Kitty Poon Kit said the government would continue to strengthen co-operation with Guangdong on improving air quality. She said both sides would study emission targets after 2010, when the current agreement to cut major pollutants expires.

Equestrian Venues Weather Conditions Now Online

July 25, 2008 – HK Observatory

The Hong Kong Observatory has launched a weather website for the Olympic and Paralympic Equestrian Events.

It provides the latest venue-specific weather forecasts and warnings, real-time weather conditions, and Air Pollution Indices from the Environmental Protection Department.

In addition, on-site observers will monitor weather conditions at the event venues around the clock.