Blizzards hit northeast and centre but skip still-grey Beijing

Seven provinces raise alert to second-highest level but flurries miss the capital, which is approaching its longest snowless winter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 6:27pm

Blizzards across large swathes of central and eastern China have marked the start of the lunar year, threatening to disrupt the plans of millions of holiday travellers, but completely bypassing Beijing amid one of its longest snow-free winters yet.

The national forecaster yesterday upgraded its blizzard alert to yellow - the third highest of a four-tier warning system - for Shaanxi , Shanxi , Henan , Hubei , Shandong , Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. The bad weather was expected to last until this afternoon or tomorrow, Xinhua reported.

Heavy snow was likely to disrupt the travel plans of tens of millions of people returning to the cities from their home provinces at the end of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

All highways in four major cities in Hebei and most highways in Henan were closed yesterday due to dangerous driving conditions, Xinhua reported.

But no snow fell in the capital. Beijing usually sees snowfall before the end of November, but the previous precipitation of any kind - a mere 0.2mm of rain - was on October 25. With no snow for more than 100 days, the capital is in the grips of its second-longest snow-free winter yet. The record stands at 124 snow-free days during the winter 1970-1971.

The capital did see sporadic flurries in some suburbs over the winter. The most recent was on Saturday night when Daxing district recorded 0.3mm of snowfall. However, the Beijing weather station said the isolated incident did not qualify as a citywide snowfall.

Meteorologists say the dry weather was due to insufficient water vapour from the Bohai Sea in the east and the South China Sea. "We need ample water vapour and cold air to make snow. But since November, despite the cold weather, there has not been enough water vapour coming from the oceans," said Chen Dagang , a meteorologist at the Beijing Climate Centre.

Wang Zhihua , from the China Meteorological Administration, said the dry spell was affecting a wider area, from Shaanxi and Gansu to parts of Inner Mongolia. In December, most of these areas had only 20 per cent of their normal precipitation, Wang told the Beijing Daily.

Environmentalists in Beijing said overconsumption of water was contributing to the abnormal weather.

"Beijing used to be a land of rivers and lakes. Now almost all places that have water in their names have dried up. This will impact our weather in one way or another," said Wang Yongchen, from Green Earth Volunteers.