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Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Great Chinese Blizzard of 2008

The biggest underreported story of 2008 is the Great Chinese Blizzard of 2008. Basically, what happened is a large series of snow storms, ice storms, and general unusual cold weather that has persisted for the past couple of weeks throughout the heavily populated areas of eastern China, from Beijing to Guangzhou.

The problem for China is many of these places rarely get snow - the winter is China's dry season - and when they do, they usually get an inch or so that goes away quickly. Shanghai's weather is similar to Atlanta, GA, although a bit colder. Guangzhou's weather is similar to Miami's. Another big problem has been big ice storms, particularly in Hunan Province, of the sort that occasionally hit Portland, Ore or Seattle, WA in several big cities in central China; pictures from the affected cities show several inches of ice, which is playing havoc with the power grid and telecoms. According to Chinese media reports, many of these cities have been without power for over a week, and are running out of food. Also, it hasn't warmed up so the ice isn't melting. This is similar to the ice storms that hit the American Northeast a few years ago; recall that many rural areas didn't have power for a couple of weeks.

And to top it off, this happened during the run up to Chinese New Year - basically Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving rolled into a single family-centric holiday - when hundreds of millions of people try to go home to be with their families. The main media accounts have focused on the Guangzhou train station, which has had several hundred thousand people camped outside waiting for trains that aren't running due to ice and snow. The problem is particularly bad in Guangzhou since that area is where much of China's export manufacturing is located, and tens of millions of peasants have moved there to work. Also, Guangzhou is the southern terminus of the main north-south rail line, which has been open and closed off and on as snow and ice are dealt with further north.

Things appear to be slowly recovering there, but it looks to be a cold, dark, lonely New Years in China this year for many.

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