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Heavy snow, rain threaten travel chaos during China’s Lunar New Year

Heavy snow and rain is forecast to hit central and eastern China in the coming days, threatening travel plans for hundreds of millions of Chinese workers heading home for the Lunar New Year.

Also known as the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year holiday traditionally sees the nation pause as migrant workers pile onto trains, planes and buses to go home to see their family.

Forecasters warn the extreme winter weather could cause mass disruption, with state broadcaster CCTV predicting the “most complex weather” since early 2008, when heavy snow affected more than 67 million people.

However, Xu Jun, chief forecaster from the Central Meteorological Observatory, told CCTV the forecast snowfall won’t be as heavy or widespread as that experienced around the holiday season 16 years ago.

“Its extreme nature comes from the fact that it is a rare weather event with great intensity and impacts,” she said.

At least 10 provinces - including Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Liaoning and Hubei - are anticipating blizzards until the start of next week, just days before the Lunar New Year begins next Saturday, CCTV said, citing China’s Central Meteorological Observatory.

“The rain and snow overlap with the peak period of Spring Festival travel. This has posed risks to safe (travel) and brought inconvenience to the transportation,” weather expert Wang Lijuan, from China Meteorological Administration, told CCTV.

The Central Meteorological Observatory has already issued a blizzard warning for some of the affected region, with snow running up to 5 centimeters (nearly 2 inches) thick in some areas, according to its Chinese social media account.

In Zhengzhou, a central eastern city, authorities canceled some high-speed train services and said they would order trains to operate at reduced speed due to the blizzards and rain.

Frost lines the side of a road in China's far western Xinjiang region. - VCG/Getty Images
Frost lines the side of a road in China's far western Xinjiang region. - VCG/Getty Images

Freezing rain

At least five provinces - including Henan, Hubei and Anhui - will be hit by freezing rain, CCTV reported, which is likely to further complicate travels.

The weather phenomenon refers to raindrops being frozen into ice droplets upon contact with surfaces after they hit the ground, which could damage electricity cables and make roads slippery, China Meteorological Administration warned in a Weibo post, urging drivers to slow down.

Xu, from the Central Meteorological Observatory, told CCTV freezing rain could affect many provinces over an area as wide as 43,000 square kilometers (16,600 square miles).

Blizzards struck many parts of China in early 2008, damaging power lines and blocking highways and railways, leaving hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded.

At least 24 people died while 827,000 people were evacuated in 14 provinces.

China, like many other parts of the world, has been hit by extreme weather in recent years.

Its lowest ever temperature was recorded last January, when Jintao town in Mohe, northeastern Heilongjiang province, dropped to -53° C.

Last summer, China recorded its hottest year on record and was also hit by the heaviest rainfall in decades, causing flooding and billions of dollars in damage.

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