Light to moderate snow fell on Thursday across most of the drought-hit areas in northern, central and eastern China, bringing respite from a long-lasting dry spell that has threatened winter wheat crops.
But the moderate precipitation was unlikely to end the drought, experts said.
Yang Guiming, chief forecaster of the National Meteorological Center, said that snow fell in parched grain-producing provinces of Anhui, Henan, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi and parts of Shandong and Jiangsu. The southern parts of Henan and western and northern parts of Anhui saw the biggest volume ranging from 11 mm to 23 mm.
“But the volume, so far, is small so its drought-relief effect is limited,” Yang said.
However, the timing of the snowfall was important, according to a leading agricultural researcher.
“The snow came at the right time, especially in Jiangsu, Anhui and southern parts of Henan province, where winter wheat is undergoing a crucial growing period,” Lu Bu, a researcher on agricultural resources at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told China Daily.
In the drought-hit regions of Hebei and Shandong provinces, the snow will help tackle plant disease and pests, he said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, 487 cloud-seeding operations had been conducted in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Henan, Anhui and Shandong, with 1,201 rockets and 1,867 shells, according to statistics from www.weather.com.cn, which is affiliated to the National Meteorological Center.
In Beijing, 759 silver iodide rods had been used by 6 am on Thursday to increase snowfall, the Xinhua News Agency quoted Zhang Qiang, head of the municipal weather intervention office, as saying.
The National Meteorological Center forecast that a strong cold front would continue to bring rain or snow to drought-stricken provinces into the weekend.
Over the next two days, 1 to 3 mm of snow are expected to fall in parts of Shanxi, Hebei and Shandong and light snow is forecast for Beijing, Tianjin and parts of Henan, it said.
Since October, most parts of central and eastern China, the key regions for wheat production, have suffered severe drought.
By Wednesday, a total of 7.8 million hectares of winter wheat farmland had been affected in eight provinces, accounting for more than 42 percent of their total wheat-sown areas, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture.
“The drought will cause severe damage to the harvest if no measures are taken,” Han Changfu, minister of agriculture, said at a national drought relief video conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters on Wednesday also issued a third-level alert to expand drought relief measures.
Also on Wednesday, the government pledged $1 billion to fight the drought after the United Nations warned that the lack of precipitation could pose “very serious” problems to China’s winter wheat crop.
China is a key factor in global grain demand calculations and traders believe an erosion of the nation’s self-sufficiency could have a major impact on the global wheat market, driving up prices.
Premier Wen Jiabao told a teleconference on Thursday that the drought has threatened the summer crop yield and called for measures – such as subsidizing farmers and ensuring irrigation – to be taken to guarantee a bumper harvest this year.
“We have the confidence and capability to ensure efficient supply of agricultural products, particularly grain, and to keep overall price levels basically stable,” he said.