China has issued its highest heavy snow warning as winter storms disrupt transport and travel during the Lunar New Year rush. Blizzards, freezing rain, ice, and other extreme weather have led to widespread flight and train cancellations, closures of highways and ports, and raised concerns over impacts to the economy.
Widespread Transport Disruptions From North to South
Heavy snowfall and other severe winter conditions have caused transport chaos across large parts of China over the past week . The winter storms have coincided with the Lunar New Year travel rush, known as the Chunyun, which sees hundreds of millions journeying across the country to celebrate with family.
Blizzards have forced the closure of highways and suspended high-speed train routes in northern and central provinces. Freezing rain has also made driving treacherous . Further south, ports along the Yangtze River Delta have halted shipping services due to heavy fog .
The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) has renewed orange alerts for blizzards in Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, as well as blue alerts for heavy snowfall in a number of central and eastern regions . These are the second highest levels in China’s four-tier color-coded weather warning system.
Hundreds of Flights Cancelled, Trains Delayed
The adverse weather has resulted in over 1,200 flight cancellations across China in recent days.
Hardest hit has been Wuhan’s Tianhe International Airport, with 30% of flights grounded on February 4. Freezing rain and low visibility also affected airports in other cities of Hubei province and neighboring Hunan .
Major train stations continue battling delays and cancellations. Beijing West Railway Station has canceled or delayed dozens of train services heading to the northeast. Shanghai’s railway authority said tracks on high-speed lines have cracked due to rapidly falling temperatures .
|30% flight cancellations at Tianhe Airport
|Dozens of train cancellations and delays
|High-speed train track damage from extreme cold
Ports Suspend Shipping, Highways Closed
Bouts of heavy fog have also suspended shipping services at several ports across eastern and southern China.
Shanghai port, the world’s busiest for container throughput, stopped all shipping on January 31 due to poor visibility. Operations were similarly halted at ports in Ningbo, Zhoushan and elsewhere along the Yangtze River Delta .
In southern China, the Qiongzhou Strait that separates Hainan province from the mainland closed to vessels on February 4 as visibility dropped to less than 50 meters. Ferry services across the strait were canceled, affecting many Lunar New Year travelers .
Blizzard conditions have forced the closure of multiple sections of highways and expressways in at least nine central and eastern provinces. Parts of six highways in Hunan were shuttered from February 2 due to snow and icy road conditions .
Emergency Response Efforts Underway
Chinese authorities have initiated emergency response efforts to deal with the severe winter weather . Local meteorological bureaus are closely monitoring weather changes and updating alerts accordingly. Transportation departments across affected regions are working to maintain smooth traffic flow on highways and railways.
Some local governments are also utilizing cloud seeding to induce precipitation and tackle drought conditions ahead of spring planting season. However, this has raised concerns over unintentionally making conditions worse in blizzard-stricken areas .
In major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, winter weather emergency response is at the highest Level IV. This mobilizes personnel and equipment to clear ice and snow, assist stranded travelers, and reinforce or repair critical infrastructure .
The winter storms and associated transportation disruptions also threaten to negatively impact domestic consumption and first quarter economic performance .
The Lantern Festival on February 5 marks the end of Lunar New Year festivities. Curtailed travel plans mean reduced revenues for domestic tourism sites, hotels, restaurants, retailers and other consumption-related sectors.
Manufacturers and other businesses resuming operations after the long public are also hampered by shipping issues at Chinese ports, likely forcing further delays .
Experts say consumption and industrial output data for January and February will need to be assessed to determine the full extent of the economic impact. If conditions persist another week or two, first quarter GDP growth could take a notable hit .
Outlook for Coming Days
Weather forecasts unfortunately offer little relief for China in the near term . Models predict the strong winter weather pattern over the country to continue for another week.
Parts of southern China may see a break in heavy rain and fog by midweek. However, blizzards and freezing rain continue threatening central provinces and regions along the Yellow River Basin . This keeps risks high for further travel delays, highway closures, and other transport impacts.
The CMA says this is China’s harshest winter weather in terms of affected area since the 2016 Chunyun period . Emergency response efforts will need to continue ensuring citizen safety and minimizing economic disruption. Improving conditions by early March could still allow for factories, businesses and shipping activities to catch up.
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