People visit the Temple of Heaven in snow in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 7, 2014. Snow made its debut of this winter in Beijing on Friday. (Xinhua/Li Wen)
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BEIJING, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- It has been a long time in coming, but the first snow of the winter began falling in Beijing early on Friday, the second-latest arrival in the capital for over 60 years.
The snowfall, only averaging 1.1 mm from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m., ended 107 precipitation-free days in the city, which had suffered from a dry spell since light rain fell on Oct. 22 last year, said the municipal meteorological observatory.
Snowflakes were first seen in the southwestern suburb of Fangshan, and by 9 a.m., snow was lying in most areas in the city. The snowfall is set to continue into Friday night.
At 6:15 a.m., the observatory issued a warning about icy roads during the morning rush hour. The local traffic management bureau said more police had been dispatched onto main roads to maintain order, as the snow slowed traffic, caused accidents and congestion.
Snow had caused delays to 52 flights and forced the cancellation another 34 at Beijing Capital International Airport as of 1 p.m. on Friday.
According to the airport's online real-time flight bulletin, 15 departures and 19 arrivals have been canceled, 19 of which are international.
In addition, five departures and 47 arrivals have been delayed, including two international flights.
The airport website asks passengers to follow the weather and make travel plans accordingly.
Statistics from the Beijing environmental monitoring center show the snow has cleaned the air, dramatically reducing PM2.5 readings.
Since records began in 1951, the most delayed first winter snow in Beijing occurred only three years ago, in the winter of 2010/11, and arrived on Feb. 10. The city's longest winter drought, 114 days, came in the winter of 1970/71.
Chen Dagang, a senior engineer with the Beijing Climate Center, said a lack of water vapor and higher-than-usual temperatures were behind the late arrival of Beijing's first winter snow this year.
Under normal conditions, the first winter snow in the capital usually falls between November and December, Chen said.
The amount of snow that has fallen on Friday is small because the city is experiencing a seasonal drought, he added.
While thirsty Beijing is cheering for the long-awaited snow, blizzards have been pounding many other parts of the country, including Henan, Anhui, Hubei, Jiangsu, Shanxi and Shandong provinces, since Tuesday, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
The snowstorms coincide with the peak travel period of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday that ended Thursday, as tens of millions of people have been returning to work from their hometown.
By Friday morning, the adverse weather had delayed more than 100 high-speed trains and closed 64 highways in eight provinces.