By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Producer
Long before I returned to Beijing this week, I knew winter had turned bitter in the Chinese capital when everyone's Facebook status entries started bemoaning the subzero temperatures.
So and so was "so thrilled to be freezing in Beijing."
Such and such cameraman wanted to know why his producer couldn't schedule shoots at noon, the (barely) warmest time of the all-too-short day.
|Two migrant workers walk past an overturned truck on a blocked road following a snowstorm in the village of Maoba, Youyang country, south-western China, on Jan. 30.|
Another joked that ten below zero was nothing: "Bring it on!"
But what we have seen in Beijing is nothing compared to what's swept across the country hundreds of miles south of us.
Worst winter in 50 years…
Several provinces in central and southern China have been hit with the worst winter in half a century, according to Chinese officials. Heavy snowfall and icy conditions have blacked-out cities, immobilized trains, planes, and automobiles, shut down expressways, and killed more than 50 people.
And all this is happening as the world's biggest mass migration of people is underway. Millions of Chinese are trying to get back to their home villages in time for the Chinese New Year celebrations, also known as Spring Festival, which begins Feb. 7.
|VIDEO: Deadly winter storms hit China|
Rail ministry authorities estimate as many as 180 million people (more than half the U.S. population) will be on the move – by train alone. But since the weather took a turn for the worse, most of these would-be travelers have been stranded and increasingly are unlikely to make the journey home to ring in the New Year with their loved ones.
As if all that weren't bad enough, reports are on the rise that China is facing its worst-ever power shortage.
Major power shortage
Power lines were knocked out a week ago in south and central China, plunging at least a dozen cities into dark and coldness, and supply lines of coal have been severely disrupted. (Coal is China's major energy source, and 70 percent of it is delivered by road.)
Also, officials admitted the country may be facing its worst-ever power shortage due to the unexpectedly high demand for power to keep homes heated. The state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported that 13 regions had begun rationing energy supplies and that coal reserves were perilously low, in fact, close to emergency levels.
Then last Friday, the government banned coal exports for two months in order to conserve energy resources.
The London Times described the shortage in startling terms: "China is experiencing an acute power shortage with a nationwide electricity shortfall at 70 gigawatts, the equivalent of almost Britain's entire generating capacity."
On Tuesday, the central government in Beijing announced a decision that could make it tougher on those regions already in short power supply. Officials at China's economic planning agency said they would push ahead this year with energy conserving plans to shut down small, coal-fired power stations across the country in their efforts to clean up China's environment.
One thought came to my mind amidst all this news: Could the weather – once considered the enemy of Beijing Olympics officials determined to present picture-perfect and clean Summer Games – now become an unexpected ally?
That was a question that came up a couple of times Wednesday at a Beijing Weather Bureau press conference where officials were discussing some of their preparations for the Olympic Games. Given the fact that there is a shortage of coal this winter and the crackdown on inefficient coal-burning power plants some of the journalists wondered if the air may end up a little cleaner by the time the games begin in August?