As a result of exceptionally early winter storms, parts of China’s northeast region experienced the worst snowfall in 116 years, causing significant disruption to daily life. 

With its unexpected changes in the weather, China has faced early snow, and it has heavily impacted the living ways of the people.

The China Meteorological Administration, China’s weather bureau, issued the first orange snow alert of the season due to this storm. 

The orange signal is the second-highest level of concern on China’s alert system. Beijing, which has more than 21.5 million people, has received its first snowfall of the season on November 7, 2021. 

The snowfall in China arrived slightly over three weeks, or 23 days, ahead of schedule this weekend.

Since the cold wave began on Sunday, the heavy snowfall has resulted in airline cancellations, road closures, public transportation disruptions, and a drastic drop in temperatures this week. 

The increasing weather has increased worries about power outages, which comes when the country is already experiencing a power shortage. 

The capital Beijing has had heavy early snowfall, with the province of Liaoning appearing to be the worst hit, with an average snow depth of 51cm (20 inches) in the Liaoning city of Anshan, the most since 1905.

Let’s take a look at the outcomes of Early snowfall in China:

consequences of early snowfall in china

1. Risk of food shortage and energy

Snowfall in China of up to eight inches blanketed the most northeastern regions, forcing the closure of airports, highways, and schools. 

Forecasters predict rain to continue throughout the week, contrasting the region’s typical dry winters. 

Authorities in Heilongjiang, a province bordering Siberia, predict record sleet, slush, and snowstorms.

Users shared videos of dogs playing in the snow, elaborately carved ice sculptures, and people skiing down city streets on social media, as well as scenes of snow pouring down on pedestrians and a collapsed vegetable store.

A warning from the Ministry of Commerce recommending households to stock up on winter basics led to empty grocery shelves and people shoving matches over sacks of rice after it was widely misinterpreted as a sign of looming food shortages.

Those anxieties were exacerbated by rising vegetable costs, which authorities blamed on natural disasters and increased fertilizer prices. 

The sales surged tenfold in two days, surpassing levels seen during the peak of China’s coronavirus outbreak in April 2020. 

Due to its unexpected weather changes, China faces and has the risk of food shortage and power in most of its arts.

In the past, China has failed to match electricity supply with demand, putting several of the country’s provinces at risk of power disruptions.

The problem is exacerbated during peak power demand periods in the summer and winter. This year, though, various variables have combined to make the situation even more acute. 

Demand for Chinese goods increases as the world begins to reopen following the pandemic, and the companies that produce them require a lot more power.

Beijing’s rules, aimed at creating the country carbon neutral by 2060, have slowed coal production, even though coal still provides more than half of the country’s electricity. As the need for power has grown, so has the price of coal.

On the other hand, coal-fired power plants are unwilling to lose since the government controls electricity rates.

2. Snowstorms and Blizzards

As the abrupt snowfall hits China, Heavy blizzards have brought record snowfall to portions of northeastern China, increasing fears about keeping houses warm in an area devastated by power shortages earlier this year. 

According to meteorological researchers in the Mongolian city of Tongliao, the snowstorm was an extremely random and unexpected extreme weather phenomenon.

In Inner Mongolia and northeastern China, a total of 27 red alerts were issued, the highest level of warning for snowstorms.

3. Deaths due to the cold

According to the Global Times, the raging snowfall was the most widespread early cold spell in a decade. 

It said it affected 1.18 billion people and 90% of the country’s regions, including the southernmost tropical island of Hainan, where temperatures dropped by at least 8 degrees.

According to state media, an intense snowstorm in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region killed one person and impacted more than 5,600 people. 

According to the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, the impact was also seen in Heibei province, with temperatures dropping to a 10-year low and early snowfall beginning on November 6 – 23 days earlier than typical.

4. Road Closure

With the highest snowfall to arrive in history, China faces significant road closure due to the heavy snow covering the streets of China and slippery roads causing the Chinese roads to go into closure.

A driver’s duty is made more difficult by the presence of fog, dust, rain, snow, or smoke in the sky. 

Weather conditions have had a notable impact on road network functioning since the middle of the twentieth century due to the diverse behaviors of drivers under various weather situations.

Snowy weather will wreak havoc on expressway operations, reducing service levels and making travel more difficult. 

Furthermore, due to erratic driving behavior, the influence of snow varies across different types of roads, cities, and snow concentrations. 

Weather-related traffic management and control solutions require traffic flow metrics to determine appropriate estimation.

5. Disruption to Public Transportation

Blizzard conditions and rain, sleet, and snow were brought to many parts of the north, posing severe challenges in various areas. 

These sectors include transportation, infrastructure, agriculture, and energy supplies when many parts have already dealt with tight energy supplies and even power shortages in recent months.

With power outages and shutdowns, trains and subway stations were mainly affected due to the intensity of the snowfall, causing closure and shutdowns.

6. Accidents due to heavy snowfall

According to The Washington Post, bad weather forced the closure of numerous sections of highway and 160 bus routes and reduced flights out of Beijing’s two major airports. 

High-speed trains departing from Beijing and bound for Tianjin and Shanghai have been canceled or delayed.

Due to this, many residents struggled to navigate snow-covered, slushy, or even ice sidewalks and highways, while others enjoyed scenes reminiscent of a winter wonderland at famous tourism sites. 

Most of the residents were nearly killed due to the heavy snow falling on their heads due to the blizzard.

Wrapping up

Forbidden city - snowfall in china
Forbidden City covered in snow| Picture Credit: DW

The abruption due to snowfall follows a long period of power outages in China and its efforts to increase coal supplies despite its climate change targets. 

The unexpected weather in China is now threatening to worsen the country’s coal-dependent electricity supply predicament.

Snowfall was hefty in densely populated parts of northeastern China. Over the weekend, Jinzhou, a city in Liaoning province, received 11.8 inches (30 cm) of snow. 

Along with the snowy vistas, Old Man Winter brought a blast of chilly air to the region. Early to mid-November in Beijing sees high temperatures in the low to middle 50s Fahrenheit (11-14 C). 

After spending all of Sunday, November 7, 2021, below freezing, the temperature only managed to reach a high of 34 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday (1 C).

(Last Updated on February 12, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Thinley Doma Ghale holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Kathmandu University. She enjoys writing articles on climate change animals and loves to travel and experience new ideas, places, meeting people, and learning from them. As a social science student, research has always been her area of interest.