When the strongest blizzard in recent memory first hit a large swathe of China, many were elated. As soon as snowflakes began drifting on Jan 13 in Changsha, capital of Hunan, a resident surnamed Yuan wrote a poem in praise of "the auspicious snow that will kill crop-harming insects and thus herald another prosperous year".
Many a netizen joined him in jubilation after he posted the poem on the Internet. But little did they know the first snows were a harbinger of the worst weather in almost half a century.
People in southern China tend to associate snow with a rare winter wonder, with kids sculpting snowmen and playing with snowballs. But they have got much more than they would have ever expected.
Northern people, on the other hand, have difficulty grasping the enormity of the situation. How can a slight dip below freezing point be so catastrophic? What they don't realize is how lethal heavy snow in high humidity could be for road safety, power lines and other infrastructure facilities.
The result: the two camps are involved in an online blame game, which betrays ignorance in meteorology.
Another important part of the online debate is whether one should travel home for the Lunar New Year - during which the largest sea of people move across any country in the world.
Since the weather has thrown road transport out of gear in many areas some media commentators have appealed to the people to cancel their trips back home and celebrate the festival where they work in order to ease the burden on the road and rail networks. "For the sake of your country and yourself, please spend the holiday away from home", Sheng Dalin has written.
Such appeals have led to a heated discussion on the significance of family reunion. Some in the opposite group say it is not reasonable to ask people to stay away from home and family after one year's hard work. The government should ensure infrastructure doesn't break down under extreme situations, they say.
Others recommended options such as extending the holiday or even keeping the May Day holiday as a one-week affair to compensate for the lunar new year holiday.
Proposals on full refund of air and train tickets have already been implemented.
Many discussions tend to end on the residence permit (hukou) system. If migrant workers could settle down in the places they work, some argue, the pressure to go back to their hometowns would be lessened.
One netizen has compiled a list of top-ten reasons not to go back home for the holiday. Saving money, energy and time are right on top of the list, and reducing pressure on transport is fifth. But it is not clear how many of the originally forecasted 2.4 billion trips would be cancelled.
The argument for a permanent reversal of the tradition is not getting much support online from those whose urge to rush home for a family reunion every year prevails over any chaos or hardship.
Despite differences in approach, the overwhelming majority appreciates the contribution of those who are sweating it out in the freezing cold to clean up roads and maintain power supply. Countless bulletin boards' pages have been filled up with heartwarming words that express how moved people are by Premier Wen Jiabao's visits to the stranded in disaster-hit areas. "We defeated the SARS epidemic," writes one netizen, "there's no reason we, united as one, cannot fight back bad weather."
(China Daily January 31, 2008)