Social media is flooded with fake and misleading weather forecasts created by untrained, uninformed, and often underage individuals we like to call “weather weenies.” We try like hell to curtail their damaging hoaxes, but one country went a step further: beginning on Friday, weather weenies are outlaws in China.
An order from the China Meteorological Administration that goes into effect on May 1 states that all weather forecasts in the country have to flow through (or be approved by) government authorities, including those issued by radio and television outlets. Activities made illegal by the order include disseminating false weather forecasts, failing to include your organization’s name and a time stamp on weather forecasts, and altering existing weather forecasts in a way that causes harm to the public.
People found in violation of the CMA’s order could be fined up to 30,000 yuan (just shy of $5,000 USD) and brought up on criminal charges if their actions result in harm to life or property.
Not only does the order serve to deter well-intentioned amateurs from issuing their own forecasts, but it also effectively outlaws “weather weenies,” or the weather geeks who build inexplicably huge followings on social media by spreading false or misleading information (for example, spreading a “forecast” for a hurricane that doesn’t exist). The most notorious among them is Kevin Martin, who infamously draws up elaborate, viral weather hoaxes and threatens to sue or harm anyone who calls him out for it.
Some folks have tossed around the idea of punishing weather weenies here in the States, or at least finding some way to forcibly curtail their presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Policing weather nerds is neither feasible nor wanted, really, so the best course of action is trying to guide people towards trustworthy sources while shaming or ignoring those that aren’t on the up and up.
The order from the CMA is a step in the wrong direction, but not entirely a surprise given the depth and scope of the country’s censorship. The weather community has almost the exact opposite problem here in the United States, where a rather small but vocal number of private-sector meteorologists are upset that the National Weather Service competes with private companies by doing outrageous things like “issuing forecasts” and “talking to the public.”
In recent years, some countries have taken somewhat similar steps to curtail the amount of weather information the public is allowed to disseminate on its own. In 2013, the South African government passed a law making it a crime for a member of the public to release his or her own false or misleading severe weather warnings; the first offense is punishable by a $424,000 USD fine and five years in jail, while the fine and prison term is doubled for the second offense.
For as much of a stir as it caused when it was introduced, the law in South Africa only applies to severe weather warnings, and we have pretty much the same law on the books here in the United States. It is a violation of federal law (and punishable by up to 90 days in jail) to issue and disseminate severe weather warnings that impersonate those issued by the National Weather Service.
Under the influence of high pressure and clear skies, it’s going to partly sunny and warm in Beijing on Thursday, with high temperatures likely reaching the upper 80s. Dew points will stay relatively low, so it’ll be a dry heat. Gusty winds from the south should curtail the blinding smog, though the air as of right now is still considered “unhealthy” (as usual).