October 2008

Meteorological services in support of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

By ZHENG Guoguang, Administrator, China Meteorological Administration


The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games were successfully held from 8 to 24 August 2008, at a time when the host and co-host cities can typically experience severe weather events such as high temperatures, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and lightning and typhoons. Ensuring that the Games ran smoothly in the face of such complex and changeable weather was no easy task, especially when the numbers for Beijing 08 are considered: a TV audience of 4 billion, 6.8 million tickets sold to events, half a million Chinese volunteers welcoming visitors, and 11 028 competing athletes from a record 204 delegations. This article describes how the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) provided high-level meteorological services to meet this challenge.

The meteorological services in support of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

  group photo

CMA support services went well beyond the sporting events at the Beijing 2008 Games to include the Olympic torch relays up to the summit of Mt Qomolangma (Everest) (8 848 m asl) and to other locations within and outside Chinese territory, assisting the operations of the host and co-host cities, and helping to ensure the safety of spectators.

The best opportunity was chosen for climbing to the top of the Mt Everest based on the scientific information to ensure success of the torch relay

The harsh conditions on Mt Everest meant that the torch relay to the summit was highly dependent on meteorological information. By mobilizing technical facilities nationwide, CMA set up an integrated 3-D automatic meteorological observation system with up-to-date technologies at base camp (5 400 m asl), located at the highest elevation not only in China but also in the world. In mid-2008, CMA sent a task team composed of 38 meteorologists and technicians from the Central Meteorological Office (CMO) to the base camp. Another task force of forecasters led by a chief forecaster was established at CMO and was responsible for issuing specific weather forecasts and rendering relevant meteorological services for the mountaineering headquarters. The best time frame that was suitable for the final ascent was forecast accurately seven days in advance, an important contribution to ensure the complete success and absolute safety of the torch relay in the final unbroken leg to the summit of Everest.


Non-stop weather tracking in the torch relay period ensured complete success both within Chinese territory and beyond

The meteorological service for the Beijing Olympic torch relay was notable for the large number of professionals involved, wide geographical coverage and duration. Through interactions with local meteorological offices within the CMA framework, CMO tracked the weather along all the routes of the torch relay. It issued special weather forecasts on a daily basis and emergency meteorological service vehicles were dispatched to deliver on-site services. Although the torch-relay schedules were modified eight times from start to end, active and timely meteorological services were carried out without interruption, as was acknowledged by the torch-relay operator teams at various points.

Timely cloud dissipation and rainfall reduction operations ensured the successful opening and closing ceremonies

As it happened, the opening day witnessed a complicated and changeable weather situation, presenting the meteorological service provider with greater responsibility and pressure and a huge challenge. CMA provided the extended forecasts (10-15 days), medium-range forecasts (3-10 days) and short-range forecasts (1-3 days) all continuously updated for both the opening and closing ceremonies. On the days when the Olympic Games opened and closed, hourly weather forecasts were issued for the National Stadium. On the opening day, intensified rocket-based weather modification operations were conducted to disrupt the cloud regimes to the south-west of the “Birds’ nest”. The precipitable cloud that was likely to influence the National Stadium was weakened. This was the first successful rainfall reduction experiment in Olympic history. On the closing day, cloud seeding through aircraft operations and land-based rocket launches was initiated to ensure that no precipitation in any form occurred around the Birds’ Nest before the celebratory activities in the closing ceremony were completed.


Accurate and sophisticated weather forecasts ensured the smooth operation of the Olympic sport events

During the Olympic Games, the rainfall was abnormally higher than normal, accompanied by thunderstorm and lightning events in the host city, Beijing: in most parts of Beijing, 20-250 per cent more rainfall than normal was recorded. In co-host city Qingdao, there were seven rainy days—out of which, five had heavy rain—and there were three days in which wind speed was less than 3 m/s. In Shanghai, where some football events were hosted, there were altogether four days when the air temperature was higher than 35°C with relative humidity ranging from 65 per cent to 95 per cent, making for very muggy conditions. Out of nine days of sporting events, eight saw showery weather in Shanghai.

To meet the demands of the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee (BOGOC), the meteorological offices within the CMA framework made sophisticated and accurate weather forecasts. They disseminated weather monitoring and forecasting products to the weather information display terminals at the operating centre of BOGOC in a timely manner. Some experts on meteorological service delivery were attached to the command centre of the International Olympic Committee, providing the meteorological services required by the sports events organizers for making the necessary arrangements and conducting sport activities smoothly. All these meteorological services were highly commended by the BOGOC and other international sport federations.

Enhanced communication and interaction with city operators ensured safe and orderly city functioning during the Olympic Games

During the Olympic Games, meteorological services took the initiative to enhance communication and interaction with city operators such as transportation, tourism, aviation and the environment. They were actively involved in public emergency response and provided, in a timely fashion, all types of meteorological monitoring, forecasting and warning information to the city operation platform so that government decision-makers of the host and co-host cities would be well informed of weather conditions and developments in a timely, accurate and comprehensive manner, ensuring a safe and orderly operation of the cities and social activities.

Active communication through various means of public weather services ensured timely public access to weather information

Websites, such as the Beijing Olympics Meteorological Service (BOMS) in Chinese and English, Weather China and Skynet, constituted a rich source of weather information accessible by the public, recording an average daily hit rate of 4.8 million. BOMS was directly linked to the official Website of BOCOG. Partnered with media such as CCTV, Phenix TV, Tourism Satellite TV and Beijing TV, additional TV weather programmes were made available. These included venue weather forecasts, weather tips for spectators and sports and meteorology. An Olympics-oriented, mobile-phone-based weather broadcasting and dissemination system was put in place, targeting the living quarters. By using this system, the on-site headquarters for the opening and closing ceremonies sent out five weather tips via mobile phone to users inside the National Stadium. Altogether, 199 752 short messages were sent during the three rehearsals for the opening ceremony and during the opening and closing ceremonies. Olympics Weather—an information newsletter—was published once a day, starting 6 August, till the end of the Games and was freely available. A free Olympics weather information telephone was opened. A survey has shown that public satisfaction about the Olympics weather service registered 93.1 per cent in Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao.



Experience and afterthoughts

Careful organization and thoughtful preparations are indispensable

Compared with previous Olympic events, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games were the earliest in terms of initiating the preparatory process of support meteorological services. A steering group, led by the CMA Administrator, was set up, while a dedicated office handled routine matters. The Beijing Olympics Meteorological Service Centre and a task team were created. Over a dozen work programmes were prepared, including the Implementation Plan on Meteorological Services for Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games. A manual on Olympics weather services was prepared in Chinese, English and French. An Olympics-oriented meteorological observation, forecast and service system was operationally commissioned. The Olympics meteorological research projects were jointly accomplished. Exercises were conducted for three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008. During the BOCOG-sponsored “Good Luck Beijing” programme, exercises and tests were made for specific sport events.

Advances in integrated monitoring and high-speed telecommunication undertaken before the Games

The FY-2C and FY-2D satellites, which back each other up and form a dual-satellite observing system, and the FY-3A satellite, launched earlier this year (see August edition of MeteoWorld), contributed to meteorological services for the Beijing Olympic Games. Eight Doppler weather radars, more than 186 automatic weather stations (AWS) for multi-element measurement, 28 GPS/MET water vapour observation and four wind-profiler radars were deployed and operated. Qingdao Municipal Meteorological Bureau operated buoy weather stations, AWS on islands and the coast, meteorological observing ships, gradient wind observation towers and other observation systems around the sailing venue. The comprehensive meteorological observation system with high-resolution spatial and temporal coverage of Beijing, co-host cities and their adjacent regions has greatly enhanced weather-monitoring capabilities. The dedicated mutual back-up intercity telecommunication lines in duplex between Beijing and co-host cities, the national broadband backbone network, the Olympic interprovincial VPN network, satellite-based VSAT network and the dedicated network for the Beijing Regional Centre served as the central hub for information dissemination, which laid a solid basis for a powerful telecommunications support to meteorological services in support of the Olympic Games.

Recognition of its importance and on-the-spot instructions are essential for Olympic meteorological service

The CMA Olympic meteorological service started delivery on 2 June 2008, Olympic sport events weather service on 20 July, and special operations on 1 August, when the 24-hour emergency attendance was initiated. Under this initiative, executives at various levels ran the operational services from the forecast office and top CMA executives were on duty around the clock to lead each shift. A regular meeting was held on a daily basis to check and arrange for forecasting services. At critical moments in support of the opening and closing ceremonies, top CMA executives were stationed at the forecasting office and the National Stadium, giving on-the-spot instructions.

Accurate forecasting and quality service

The meteorological agencies established a world-class platform to produce and issue 0-2 hour nowcasts and 2-12 hour and 12-48/72-hour forecasts in a continuously updated manner. Based on the accurate predictions, meteorological agencies provided decision-makers, city operators and Olympic organizers with accurate and timely services. They also provided abundant weather information to the general public. Meteorological service teams were also set up at some sports venues. The rolling 0-72-hour weather element forecasts, including three-hour forecasts, were produced for the venues of the Beijing Olympics. Such forecasts exceeded the range of routine operations and even previous Olympic Games in terms both of forecasting time and location.

Extensive international cooperation and cross-agency interactions

Extensive international cooperation increased the capacities of the Olympic weather services. The Beijing 2008 demonstration projects of WMO’s World Weather Research Programme were led by Chinese scientists. Experts from other countries or regions, i.e. Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, USA and Hong Kong, China, also participated actively. The project has improved the nowcasting skill (0-6 hours) and short-range forecasts (6-36 hours) in the Beijing area, while also allowing outside experts to benefit by bringing home lessons learned from the rigorous intercomparisions of model performance. In addition, a Russian expert was invited to participate in cloud dispersion and rainfall reduction for the opening ceremony. International cooperation, cooperation with military and civil services, cooperation within the CMA framework and inter-agency collaboration became the keynote of the Olympic Games meteorological services.

By adhering to the Paralympic tenet “I participate, I contribute and I am happy”, CMA continued to draw on its experience and made persistent efforts to provide the Paralympics with the same meteorological services as for the Olympics, if not better. To this end, CMA kept the same service model, teams, observation system, forecasting system and standards as for the Olympic Games, all aimed at achieving an even higher level of meteorological service. To meet the demands for special weather services during the Paralympic Games, sign language and multi-lingual broadcast services were provided for disabled athletes and spectators.

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