China to ban unofficial weather forecasts

China to ban unofficial weather forecasts
A tourist gestures as she poses for a photograph at Tiananmen Square during a sandstorm in Beijing.

BEIJING - China will ban unofficial weather forecasts starting Friday, as citizens criticised the government for further encroaching on a seemingly harmless hobby.

The new regulations ban predictions on a wide variety of indicators from "wind speed, air temperature, humidity" to predicting disasters like "typhoons", "sandstorms" and "haze", according to the China Meteorological Administration.

Some amateur and independent meteorologists have a popular following in China and many said they would avoid making "forecasts" so as not to flout the law, the state-run Global Times reported.

The China Meteorological Administration has said previously the rules are intended to prevent public panic caused by false weather predictions.

But banning independent reports on "haze", often used to describe China's choking air pollution, is of particular concern to ordinary citizens who do not trust government figures.

China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use, and it has become a major source of discontent with the ruling Communist Party.

Levels of PM2.5 - airborne particulates with a diameter small enough to deeply penetrate the lungs - routinely exceeded amounts recommended by the World Health Organisation.

"Our own PM2.5 reports are false and now we won't let others report, this is truly wicked," said a commentator on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service. "How can we protect the environment with false data."

The United States Embassy in Beijing publishes air quality readings, including PM2.5, that often differ considerably from official Chinese government numbers, especially on the most polluted days. It is unclear if those reports would fall under the new law.

Those that violate the new rules could be fined as much as 50,000 yuan (S$10,619).

False rumours of a Category 17 super typhoon in March in Fujian province during the Tomb Sweeping holiday caused some residents to cancel their travel plans.

Other online commentators were angry simply at increasing government control over a seemingly innocuous topic.

"Even our freedom to predict the weather is gone," lamented one commentator.

"If weather stations can promise that every report is accurate, I'll support it," another said. "If they can't, why not let others have a say?"

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