China braces for worst cold weather in 30 years

Chinese people skate on the frozen surface of Houhai Lake in Beijing, China.
Chinese people skate on the frozen surface of Houhai Lake in Beijing, China.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - Schools have been suspended and emergency workers put on stand-by in China as the country braces for historically cold weather, including 30-year lows in places, the government and state media said on Thursday (Jan 21).

At 1pm on Thursday, it was already a biting -28 deg C in Yakeshi in Inner Mongolia, with Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province in the north-east at minus 19 deg C and Changchun in neighbouring Jilin at minus 17 deg C.

"I've put on all my clothing, but I still don't feel warm!" state broadcaster CCTV showed a pedestrian saying in Altai, in the western region of Xinjiang, where temperatures reached minus 26 deg C.

"The wind is very strong - when it blows on my face it hurts horribly."

The National Meteorological Center predicted temperatures would drop up to 10 deg C across much of the country over the next four days, according to a statement on its website.

It will be below freezing in over 90 per cent of the world's most populous country, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Beijing is forecast to see a low of minus 17 deg C on Saturday, but some of the most unusual weather patterns were projected for further south.

Zhejiang province in the east declared a yellow alert for the cold - the second-highest on a four-level scale.

Photos of supermarkets in the provincial capital Hangzhou posted online showed mad scrambles of shoppers vying for fresh produce, cooking oil and bread, in one case leave nothing but a lone cucumber behind on the shelves.

Commercial hub Shanghai and Changsha, capital of the central province of Hunan, are expected to see their coldest temperatures for 30 years, with lows forecast to hover around minus 5 deg C over the weekend.

Schools in Changsha closed early for the Chinese New Year holidays, Xinhua reported, as have those in Changzhou, near Shanghai.

Changsha will be colder than it was during a 2008 blizzard that left 129 people dead across southern China and caused 150 billion yuan of damage.

But China's frosty weather this week could be considered toasty when compared with the frigid temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia. Forecasters at The Weather Channel say the Siberian village experiences average winter temperatures of minus 50 deg C, and is generally considered the coldest inhabited place on Earth.