Bird and Beast Beware; Snows a’ Comin’ to Nanjing


As an Arctic blast swings southwest over Seoul, Shanghai and onto Nanjing, we need brace ourselves for icy weather. Sleet is predicted to be incoming, most likely showing its chilly face this Sunday.

This year, snow fell on Nanjing for the first time at the beginning of January, but while it came late, it stuck around for a week, making it the biggest snowfall the city had seen in a decade. While the snowfall was indeed enough to garner a few days of work from home, it was categorised only as a “Yellow Weather Alert”. 

Temperatures plummeted and meteorological authorities suggested it was a match only for the “big freeze” of 2008, which cut off parts of Nanjing for a week. Xinhua News reported that said was deemed the worst winter weather China had seen for 50 years.

The snowy spell caused extensive damage and disrupted the travel of several thousand travellers; 129 people died. So while we wait for that which the winter of 2018 has in store for us, it is worth contemplating the next few weeks, or as it may be, months. Are we in for a white Christmas or just its icy, grey equivalent?

While the first days of this year might have been the worst in a decade, Nanjing’s longest snowy spell in fact dates from almost 400 years ago. Historical records of the year 1620 show that Nanjing, along with the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, was under snowfall for a staggering 139 days, according a 2014 report published in Advances in Climate Change Research.

With an estimated average temperature of 4.4 degrees Celcius, Nanjing’s longest-ever winter lasted from the tenth Chinese lunar month of 1620 to the middle ten days of the second Chinese lunar month of 1621, which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar of 25 October, 1620, to 12 March, 1621, not far off 5 months.

Inevitably, accounts of the time in historical records vary. Another reported, “It was bitter cold in the spring of 1621, with snow covering on the ground for more than 50 days. Many birds and beasts were frozen to death”.