Icy Roads and Snowstorms Freeze China’s Holiday Travel Rush
Along with thousands of travelers, vehicles, and goods carriers, Chen Wei, a 32-year-old travel blogger from the southwest Sichuan province, found herself trapped on a highway in the central Hubei province for over 16 hours.
Severe winter weather, characterized by heavy snowfall and freezing rain, last week began wreaking havoc on travel during China’s Spring Festival season, typically the busiest time as millions journey home for celebrations. This year, extreme conditions have triggered severe traffic jams and highway closures, stranding travelers across multiple provinces, including Henan, Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, and Guizhou.
Chen, driving home from the eastern Zhejiang province approximately 1,800 kilometers away, recalled that traffic gradually slowed down near Hubei’s Xiantao region last Saturday. And as it eventually ground to a complete standstill on Sunday, Chen witnessed firsthand both the chaos and the camaraderie that emerged.
Driving in a recreational vehicle equipped with a water boiler and a bathroom, Chen was better off than most. “The road was full of stranded vehicles,” she said, adding that many travelers, unprepared with sufficient food and water, had to endure a 40-minute walk through the snow to a nearby village for supplies. Some villagers even extended their generosity by providing free food and hot water to the stranded motorists.
“The most helpless part was being unable to go to the toilet,” said Chen. She recalled that many women were forced to adapt, and used umbrellas as makeshift shields while relieving themselves beside their cars on the roadside.
In response to the hardships she witnessed, Chen opened up her RV to other women and even cooked sausages and distributed them freely, offering other stranded travelers a warm meal amid the cold. Some even reciprocated, giving Chen fruits and assorted food.
And when Chen ran into setbacks of her own — her RV ran out of fuel, and later became immobilized in ice after long hours of inactivity — several drivers came together to help push her heavier vehicle free.
“In these moments, you can feel everyone’s warmth. You don’t have to speak, everyone will help spontaneously if they can,” she said, adding that she arrived home at 1 a.m. Thursday, after being delayed by three days.
Chen Guangbin, deputy director of the Hubei Provincial Ministry of Transportation, told state broadcaster CCTV Wednesday that 20 of the 44 congestion points in the province have been cleared. Efforts are ongoing to alleviate the remaining congestion points, which are experiencing low traffic speed due to weather conditions and high volume. Currently, there are no stranded passengers, he said.
Liu Kexin was en route to Jingzhou City in Hubei from Hunan for her wedding on Saturday when she encountered severe weather conditions.
The heavy snow forced them to travel at speeds below 40 mph. Nearing Jingzhou, they found themselves frequently stopping to remove ice from their wipers. The road conditions caused many vehicles to skid and become stuck, prolonging what was typically a three-hour journey to nine hours.
And upon arrival, the adverse weather delayed the wedding, as not all family members could make the journey. Despite the challenges, Liu said: “We are still quite relieved to have taken a less congested route. I can’t imagine how much longer it might have taken otherwise.”
Experts attribute the severe conditions mainly to freezing rain. “The effects of freezing rain are more serious than snow,” said Hong Guoping, a senior engineer at the Climate Assessment Room of the Wuhan Regional Climate Center, in an interview with CCTV. He explained that the greater weight of freezing rain exacerbates its impact.
Li Aixun, a senior engineer at the Public Meteorological Service Center said: “When freezing rain hits the highway, it creates ice on the road surface, jeopardizing traffic safety. If it accumulates on powerlines, the weight can break utility poles, leading to communication and power outages,” Li told CCTV.
Additional reporting: Ye Zhanhang; editor: Apurva.
(Header image: Cars stranded on the Xiantao section of the G50 expressway, Hubei province, Feb. 4, 2024. Courtesy of Chen)