China's weather forecasters warned on Friday that heavy snow could sweep swathes of the country in coming days, threatening energy supplies and the massive move of people before the Lunar New Year holiday.
The harsh weather could roll from west to east over the next three days, the China Meteorological Administration said on its Web site (http://www.cma.gov.cn), forecasting heavy snow, sleet and rain.
Snow storms could hit parts of the heavily agricultural heartland provinces of Henan and Hubei, and Anui province to the east.
Tens of millions of Chinese people, especially rural migrant workers, are cramming trains and buses to return home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which this year begins on February 7.
Power supplies in many provinces have also been strained recently, partly due to snow falls slowing trains and sapping coal supplies.
The administration warned travellers and power plants to brace for more disruptions.
"It is predicted that this weather process will quite severely affect transport, communications and energy supplies and people's work and lives," said the announcement.
The icy weather briefly disrupted trains between Beijing and Guangzhou, in the far south, and caused power shortages in Hunan province, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.
Chinese television news showed snow already blanketing central and western regions on Thursday.
Common in the north, the heavy snow and cold weather have this year hit unusually large parts of central and eastern China.
Earlier this week, 11 people were killed when an overloaded bus overturned on a snowy highway in Anhui. Six more were killed in Anhui and central Hubei province when houses collapsed under the weight of the snow.
Brownouts have hit at least 13 provinces, and at its peak nationwide demand outstripped supply by nearly 70 gigawatts, or the equivalent of most of Britain's generating capacity, the official People's Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The cold snap, as well as a crackdown on unsafe mines and high global demand pushing up coal prices, were to blame for the shortages, an official from the state power regulator said. (Reuters)