A general view of the city on a snowy day in Beijing, China, December 11, 2023. REUTERS

BEIJING — Heavy blizzards, blizzards and extreme temperatures are forecast to sweep China in what could be one of its most severe December cold snaps, spurring authorities in the capital to halt train services, close schools and tell people to stay at home.

A cold snap is expected to move in from the West after city officials issued the second-highest warning for blizzards through Thursday, the only warning of its kind in the country.

“When enjoying the snow, you also need to pay attention to staying warm and ensuring safe travel,” the Beijing observatory said, as snow-laden clouds rolled into the capital.

To avoid the chaos threatened by “long-lasting” snowfall, the city of nearly 22 million people closed all schools from Wednesday and moved classes online. Companies have been instructed to offer employees flexible working conditions and staggered commutes.

Tourist spots in the north and west mountains were temporarily closed in anticipation of extreme weather conditions.

Rail links with major cities such as commercial hub Shanghai, Hangzhou and central Wuhan were suspended, although Beijing Capital Airport continued to operate.

Beijing could face temperatures as low as -18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) this weekend, compared with the mid-December average of around -8 C (17.6°F).

Even Shanghai in the south, now experiencing a balmy 20 degrees Celsius (68°F), is expected to be hit by weather as cold as minus 4°C (24.8°F) on Saturday and Sunday.

More than 6,000 rescue teams have been activated for emergency road rescues and more than 5,800 sets of snow removal equipment and machines are on standby.

About 32,000 metric tons of snow-deicing agent were prepared for use on icy roads and highways.

Municipal authorities called on volunteers to clear snow and remove ice, in addition to 73,000 people on duty to carry out these tasks, and ordered internal heating to be intensified.

Beijing last experienced such cold weather on January 7, 2021, when the temperature dropped to -19.6C (-3.28°F). The city's all-time low, minus 27.4 C (−17.32 °F), was recorded on February 22, 1966.

This week's cold snap, compared to last week's fall-like conditions, reflects recent sharp temperature swings. October was one of the hottest in decades in Beijing, in a year of extreme weather.

frozen rivers

The western regions of Xinjiang and Qinghai issued the second highest warning for cold snaps, expecting a sudden drop in temperatures.

Rain, snow and winds forced the suspension of some train services in Zhengzhou, capital of central Henan province.

Temperatures could drop by more than 14 degrees Celsius (57.2°F) in areas of northern, northwestern and southern China, along with parts of Inner Mongolia, Guizhou province and even regions south of the Yangtze River, weather officials said. .

In issuing its first warning since 2013 against freezing temperatures, the National Meteorological Center urged local governments to take precautions, along with measures to protect tropical crops and aquatic products.

Heavy rain and snowfall is forecast in the central and eastern regions through Friday, with up to 30 mm (1.2 inches) of precipitation in snowstorms in parts of Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong provinces.

Accumulated snowfall could be the highest in the corresponding period in a decade, he added.

Many rivers have already frozen over in the vast northeastern province of Heilongjiang, on the border with Russia.

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On Tuesday, meteorological authorities activated the second highest level of emergency response against the cold snap and snowfall.

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