Cold wave grips northern China, south bracing for big chill

By Bernard Orr, Liz Lee and Ethan Wang

BEIJING (Reuters) -Cold weather gripped large swathes of China on Thursday, forcing some highway closures around its capital as the unusually icy conditions disrupted road, rail and aviation networks.

The cold snap is moving from several northern provinces hit by blizzards to central and southern areas, such as the province of Guizhou, and pushing deep into the lower reaches of the Yangtze River delta.

Sections of highways under the Beijing traffic authority’s purview, including to Daxing Airport, an outer ring road linked to neighbouring Hebei as well as parts of expressways to Shanghai and Guangdong province in the south, have been temporarily shut due to snow.

Forecasters said sharp falls in temperatures are expected over the next two days, particularly in the south.

China’s national forecaster expected the strongest cold wave yet this winter to sweep across most parts of the country, reaching as far as the southern-most tip that is tropical island Hainan.

“By then, many places in the north will experience record-breaking cold, while temperatures in the south will reverse from warm to cold,” the forecaster said.

The weather in Nanjing, the populous capital of Jiangsu province on the Yangtze’s southern banks near Shanghai, is expected to plunge to about 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) from a mild 16 C (60.8 F) over the next 24 hours.

“This cold wave is powerful, later this week it will be a big move south,” said meteorological analyst Wang Weiyue, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

By Sunday, temperatures south of the Yangtze could reach zero degrees Celsius (32 F), while provinces just north of the Yellow River, such as Shandong, could see minus 10 C (14 F).

Further north, temperatures could approach historical lows for this time of the year or even surpass records, national weather forecasters warned.

In Beijing, snow has been building since Monday in the capital of nearly 22 million. Temperatures are expected to slide further to minus 12 C (10.4 F) on Friday from about minus 3 C (26.6 F) on Thursday.

Major northeastern cities, such as Shenyang and Harbin, could register as low as minus 27 C (minus 16.6 F) in what could be their lowest this year, CCTV said.

China has grappled with weather extremes this year, from ultra-low temperatures in January to record rainfall and a blistering hot summer, in wild swings that scientists blame on climate change.

This week, nearly 200 nations agreed at the COP28 climate summit to start reducing consumption of fossil fuels to avert the worst of climate change, but implementation remains to be seen.

“These extreme weather (events) will become part of the normal experience moving into the future,” said Li Yifei, an environmental studies specialist at New York University in the commercial hub of Shanghai.


Temperatures were at a record low for a second straight day in several areas.

Snow and ice forced the closure of 126 highways across several provinces. Sleet and hail lashed central Henan.

On the outskirts of Beijing, over 30 people were injured after two subway train carriages broke apart due to a “breakdown”, according to Beijing’s metro and transportation authorities, who have shut the subway station affected and begun evacuation and rescue work.

A video posted by state-backed Global Times showed people walking on an above ground train track covered by snow in between two opened carriages.

The cold also prompted closure of schools, with the provincial capital of Zhengzhou ordering home-schooling for younger children. It also suspended several train services.

Huang Yunling, a Beijing-based venture capitalist, said the blizzard has disrupted daily life but modern conveniences like home delivery services also meant the old and young could remain safely at home.

“All schools have been suspended and they do online classes at home. There is some impact on our daily life. But in terms of buying daily essentials…it’s very convenient,” the 58-year-old parent said.

Parents in Shaanxi to the north complained that a lack of heating in a junior high school left children with frostbite on their hands and feet.

In northeastern port city of Dalian, where blizzards and strong winds were forecast, authorities announced a study-at-home rule for all educational institutions to be enforced on Friday.

Further east, in Shanxi, authorities raised the alert for cold waves to its highest, with temperatures expected to fall as low as minus 20 C (minus 4 F) by Saturday and even to minus 29 C (minus 20.2 F) in mountainous areas.

Temperatures in the provincial capital of Taiyuan averaged minus 4 C (24 F) on Thursday, with heavy snow forcing a three-hour closure of its international airport as workers de-iced the runway.

Severe icing on the grid led to an overnight power outage in Yuanqu, a city of nearly 200,000 to the south, spurring nearby cities and provinces to send emergency mobile power generator trucks.

Gale warnings also went out for far western Xinjiang, the west of Tibet, the Ningxia region, Qinghai province and parts of Inner Mongolia.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr, Ryan Woo, Liz Lee and Ethan Wang; Additional reporting by Nicoco Chan in Shanghai and Alessandro Diviggiano; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Chizu Nomiyama and Christina Fincher)