Beijing faces lowest temperature in half a century; schools closed today
Snow cleaners work at full tilt at Beijing Capital International Airport, where more than 90 percent of flights were cancelled or severely delayed yesterday, with only one of the three runways open at one point.
The heaviest snow to hit North China in decades caused widespread chaos on roads and left tens of thousands of passengers stranded at airports yesterday - but worse is forecast for today and tomorrow.
A security guard shovels snow to make a path in front of a snowman on Beijing's Tiananmen Square January 3, 2010. [Agencies]
Temperatures are forecast to drop to -16 C in Beijing, the lowest in half a century, when work resumes after a three-day New Year holiday.
The severe weather forced thousands of primary and high schools to suspend classes today.
The authorities in Beijing and Tianjin announced yesterday that classes in the two cities' 3,500 primary and high schools will be suspended, affecting more than 2.2 million students.
Yesterday's snowfall forced the full or partial closure of airports in Beijing, Tianjin, Hohhot and Dalian, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded.
More than 90 percent of flights at Beijing Capital International Airport, the country's busiest, were cancelled or severely delayed, with only one of the three runways open at one point.
The snow forced cars to less than 40 km-per-hour on the usually bustling freeway from the airport into town. Vehicles slowed to a crawl on city roads, navigating slushy snow.
Many of the expressways connecting Beijing with other cities were shut down or had restricted access, with several centimeters of snow blanketing roads.
Long-distance bus travel in North China was hampered by the weather, but the nation's rail system was operating normally, reports said.
Sun Hongtao, a teacher at Beijing Wanshousi Primary School, said: "I was quite surprised to hear classes will be suspended because it is very rare. As far as I remember, we only did it during the SARS outbreak in 2003."
The Central Meteorological Station (CMS) yesterday morning extended the warning of a strong cold spell and snowstorms by issuing an orange alert, the second-highest level.
Temperatures are set to fall by 8 to 12 C in central and western Inner Mongolia, eastern parts of Northwest China, North China, Guizhou and Chongqing, according to the CMS.
Temperatures in parts of Inner Mongolia and northern parts of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces might plunge by 14 to 18 C, it said.
The lowest temperature in the northwestern region of Heilongjiang province will hit 36 C below zero this morning, the national forecaster said.
The national and 23 provincial and municipal meteorological departments have been ordered to be on high alert and closely monitor the cold currents and snowstorms, Xinhua reported yesterday.
"With the capital blanketed in heavy snow, the temperature in Beijing is expected to hit the lowest in half a century with the minimum reaching 16 C below zero," Guo Hu, head of the Beijing meteorological bureau, said yesterday.
Upward of 20 cm of snowfall was recorded in the suburbs of Beijing's Changping district near the Great Wall.
The freezing cold will last for three days at least, Guo said.
"I don't remember ever seeing such heavy snowfall in the city. I am wondering about tomorrow's traffic, as snow has blanketed roads," said a local resident surnamed Zhou in her 30s yesterday.
The city government has mobilized 300,000 people to clear the snow.