Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Biggest snowfall in 60 years and freezing cold in Beijing

The whole of the Northern Hemisphere is currently in the grip of particularly cold weather, from North America through Europe and Asia. Here in Beijing, the winters are usually extremely cold anyway by most people's standards, with the average temperature in January being -1. But this winter is definitely colder than usual, and the last few days have been particularly bad. On sunday Beijing saw the heaviest snowfall since 1951, with 3 inches falling on the city (and this time the snowfall was entirely natural) . Since then it has been unusually frigid even by Beijing's standards, with the temperatures constantly below -10 and falling as low as -16 in the night. The heavy snow and the freezing cold have disrupted the traffic and daily life up to a point. Most flights from Beijing were cancelled on sunday, and on monday all of the city's schools were closed because of the cold and the snow, an unusal event in the city. Fortunately the authorities have prepared some warm shelters for the homeless to ensure they don't freeze to death. 300,000 snowshovellers worked for hours in the open yesterday to clear the streets from the snow.

Personally it is the first time I have the experience of going out and doing things in temperatures below -10. As long as I make sure I wear warm clothing I find I don't have too much trouble, although of course I try not to stay in the open longer than necessary. However, at least the snow is pretty, and it makes a change from the usual dry and windy barreness of Beijing in the winter.

I really have to sympathize with the migrant workers living in the poorer neighbourhoods of Beijing, since many of them have quite inadequate heating. They often have no central heating, but perhaps just an electric heater in one room. I also can't help empathizing with some of the foreign students in my dorm, coming from places like Africa or Vietnam or Indonesia, who have never experienced temperatures below freezing before. Most of them are doing their best not to go out at all.

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