Residents in Beijing were met with a flurry of snow on Thursday morning, the second snowfall which surprisingly failed to disperse pollution in the capital city.
A blanket of polluted air has covered the city since Wednesday morning, as readings from the new official air quality index issued by the Beijing environmental monitoring centre hit between 200 to 250. These levels are labelled as “heavily polluted” and residents were advised to wear masks if travelling outside.
The density of PM2.5 fine particles, widely considered to be the most hazardous, was 188 micrograms per cubic metre by 2pm on Thursday – more than seven times the level deemed safe by the WHO.
Light snowfalls affected northern and eastern Beijing on Thursday morning, but failed to cause traffic disruption despite light fog hanging over much of the city.
According to the Beijing meteorological bureau, the lowest minimum temperature recorded at -6 degrees Centigrade and the highest maximum was 1c.
Experts from Beijing environmental monitoring centre told Xinhua that the heavily polluted weather was expected to last for a few days ande residents were being advised to take protective measures and avoid outdoor activities.
Beijing residents welcomed the return of clear skies after its first snowfall of the winter season a week ago on February 7, when the air quality index dropped to below 50 in the following few days after the snows.
The snowfall last week also helped ease a prolonged drought in the area.
Beijing had recorded its third-longest winter stretch on record without snow before last week.
The smoggy air has cast a a cloud over the festivities planned for the Lantern Festival on Friday, which traditionally marks the end of the Chinese New Year holiday season.
After the Lantern Festival, fireworks are not allowed in the city.
At a safety meeting held by the Beijing municipal government on Tuesday, party members were urged again to avoid setting up fireworks and firecrackers during heavily polluted days.
Traditionally, Beijingers like to set off fireworks and firecrackers on Chinese New Year’s eve and the Lantern Festival to celebrate the holiday season.
On the Chinese New Year eve on January 30, the air quality index sharply climbed from around 70 at 6pm to nearly 500 during midnight when people let off fireworks en masse.