Coldest Winter in 28 Years Hits China

The cold front that hit southern China a week ago is likely to continue, creating pressure on the country’s transportation systems. Liza Lin at Bloomberg reports:

Snow, ice and fog have caused havoc on the nation’s roads and at train stations and airports, according to reports from the Xinhua News Agency and China Daily.

[...] More than 10,000 people were stranded at Chengdu airport in southwest Sichuan province yesterday after heavy fog caused authorities to close the airport and ground more than 100 flights, Xinhua said in a separate report.

[...] Four people died and 64 others were injured in three separate road accidents in eastern China yesterday, Xinhua said, citing information from local authorities. Slippery road conditions from persistent rain and snow over the past few days may have caused the accidents, traffic police were cited as saying.

Bloomberg’s Feiwen Rong cites a report from China National Grain and Oils Information Center saying that the extended cold weather has affected crop yields in southern growing regions. Carolynne Wheeler at The Globe and Mail looks into the impact the weather is having on China’s economy :

Emergency shelters have sprung up in Anhui province. Some 400,000 people have been left in a state of emergency in Guizhou province while workers use bamboo poles to clear ice from power lines. There are widespread disruptions in power and running water and an old debate over whether the Chinese government should supply public heating in the south as it does in the north has been resurrected.

But just as important is the cold’s effect on the food supply. Some 180,000 cattle have died from the cold in the north; thousands of hectares of crops have also been damaged.

As a result, while non-food inflation came in last month at a respectable 1.7 per cent, food prices, which make up nearly one-third of the weighting, jumped 4.2 per cent from this time last year. Vegetable prices soared 14.8 per cent year-on-year, or 17.5 per cent month-on-month.

The numbers are expected to get worse in the first two months of 2013, since prices traditionally rise ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, also known as Spring Festival, which this year falls in mid-February. And 11 days into January, Beijing’s cold temperatures show no signs of abating yet.

Despite the heavy losses, some analysts believe that inflation will remain manageable. From David Pierson at Los Angeles Times:

Higher food prices also worry the Chinese government because discontent rises when poorer people have to pay a bigger share of their income on food. Chinese households spend more than 20% of their earnings on food, or more than three times as much as U.S. households spend, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

[...] ”In all, we are still not particularly concerned about high inflation in 2013,” Louis Kuijs, an economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland, said in a research note Friday.

[...] Analysts said prices for food probably will continue to rise as demand soars during the Chinese New Year national holiday next month, then will level off.

Meanwhile, Jason Samenow at the Washington Post traces the origin of this cold front:

The cold is China has mostly originated from sprawling arctic high pressure systems in Siberia where, according to the New York Times: “thousands of people were left without heat when natural gas liquefied in its pipes and water mains burst.”

Some of this arctic air has bled even further south and west.

[...] As some of the deadly cold air mass was drawn into the Middle East earlier this week, it clashed with warm, moist air from the Mediterranean, leading to the snowstorm we reported on yesterday, which blanketed Jerusalem with 4-8 inches of snow.

Long range forecast models show some relief from the cold in China with normal to above normal temperatures in the coming week.