Heavy snow and rain forced at least 30 highways in northern China to shut yesterday, affecting millions of travelers as they headed home for the Spring Festival holiday that starts this weekend.
Blizzards are set to hit more areas today and traffic could worsen, meteorologists forecast.
The country's transport system yesterday faced its busiest time of the year, as 65 million people took long-distance buses or ships and 5.2 million people took trains.
But the Ministry of Transport said the heavy snow caused nationwide expressway closures by yesterday morning.
Traffic police shut 35 highways in parts of the northern provinces after ice covered road surfaces and left thousands of vehicles stranded.
Heavy snowfall hit northern provinces including Shaanxi and Shanxi, dumping snow up to 4 cm high in some areas to disrupt air and ground travel.
Snowfall that started on Tuesday night closed down six expressways in Shanxi, halting inter-provincial bus services and stranding thousands of passengers at a coach terminal in provincial capital Taiyuan by noon yesterday.
"The terminal was closed at 5:40 am and all the stranded passengers had their fares refunded," said Li Zhigang, manager of the terminal.
He did not know when the coach service could resume operations.
Snowstorms also stranded eight passengers in two cars that heading toward Taiyuan but were later lost on a mountainous road.
After receiving calls for help at midnight, police officers rescued the eight passengers, including a Canadian Chinese, back to Taiyuan at 5 am yesterday.
Snow that started falling in the northern province on Tuesday also intensified during the night, forcing Taiyuan Airport to close at 2:30 am yesterday. At least two incoming flights had to stop over in Beijing, airport official Fan Zhifeng said.
Fan said the airport reopened at 7 am and allowed the first direct flight from Taiyuan to Taipei to take off on time.
In Handan of Hebei province, cars were reportedly stranded on the Beijing-Zhuhai expressway for five hours yesterday morning. The inclement weather also led to numerous minor traffic accidents.
"I witnessed at least five traffic accidents along the way. It is too slippery to drive safely, even at a slow speed," said Ye Haiying, who had been driving on the expressway since Tuesday night.
Spring Festival 2010
Ye had started driving on the road on Tuesday night to try and avoid traffic in the daytime.
"I was stuck in traffic on the expressway for five hours, from 2:30 am instead. It was really frustrating," she said.
The snow and ice also forced Zhengzhou Xinzheng International airport in the capital of Henan province to shut yesterday. China Southern canceled all its flights from Beijing to Zhengzhou after 3 pm.
Flights in provinces including Hunan and Shandong were also delayed due to heavy fog and snowfall.
Parts of north, central and east provinces, including Gansu, Henan, Shandong, Anhui and Jiangsu, are all expected to experience heavy snow.
Meteorologists have forecast the cold snap to move with full force toward the south, bringing more snow and rain to more areas.
Rain is also likely to hit south China and cause a temperature drop of 10 C, the China Meteorological Administration forecast.
"In the past few days, some areas to the south of Yangtze River had really nice weather, when the temperature was up to more than 20 C. But in the two days before Spring Festival, the southern part will experience temperatures below 10 C," said Bai Xueying, a meteorological analyst with the administration.
Blizzards also hit parts of the Tibet autonomous region since Monday.
As of Tuesday night, the region's Ngari prefecture reported 21.7 mm of precipitation and fresh snow on the ground measured 23 cm.
The Spring Festival rush for home peaked yesterday, with an estimated 5.2 million passenger trips by railway alone. About 210 million train trips are expected to be made before and after the major holiday.
Railway authorities said trains will slow down when fresh snow measures 40 cm and train services will be halted once the snow exceeds 50 cm.
Xing Yu and Xinhua contributed to the story