Cold snap drops Beijing's temperature to 10-year low

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Beijing's temperature slumped to below minus 10 degrees Celsius Wednesday morning, the lowest in a decade reported at the same period of the year, amid a cold snap hitting half of China.

An observatory in the southern suburbs of Beijing indicated the temperature was minus 10.9 degrees Celsius at 5 a.m., a record low in 10 years, the city's weather bureau said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the temperature in the mountainous Yanqing District on the city's northern outskirts was minus 16.1 degrees Celsius.

A stinging wind, typical to Beijing in the winter, made the freezing weather even more bitter for early risers.

"It was so cold my face went numb," said Lu Min, an accountant with a foreign-invested company in downtown Beijing.

The cold wave forced Lu to give up her usual 40-minute morning walk to her office. "But waiting 20 minutes for a bus almost froze me, and the bus was so crowded and moved so slowly."

The freezing weather made Beijing's traffic congestion even worse, as many hikers and cyclists turned to cars, taxis and buses to get to work.

Some private car owners risked fines as they continued to drive even though they were supposed to be off the road Wednesday, according to Beijing's three-year-old traffic management rules aimed at easing congestion on week days.

Government employee Wu Rong said she hesitated a while before starting the engine. "But it was freezing and there was no taxis in sight. I feared my son would be late for school or catch a cold."

If caught by a policeman or a surveillance camera, she would be fined 100 yuan. "It's worth the risk after all. If the child falls sick, his medical bills would be far higher."

Until midday Wednesday, the mercury still lingered at minus 7 degrees Celsius in the city proper.

He said the weather would start to improve Thursday, when the high temperature was expected to reach zero again.

He warned citizens to keep warm and increase indoor humidity, as Beijing has had no rain or snow for more than six weeks. Children and elderly people were susceptible to respiratory diseases in such weather conditions, he said.

Many other parts of China were also suffering from the cold wave that hit Tuesday. Meteorological authorities forecast temperatures in some cities would further drop by as much as 10 degrees in the coming 24 hours, accompanied by gales.

More than 10 provinces were hit by snow, including the eastern Shandong, Anhui, Jiangxi and Zhejiang, the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, the central Hubei and Hunan provinces, as well as Henan Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the north.

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