Early heavy snowstorm hits Beijing

BEIJING - Beijing issued its second-highest blizzard alert on Sunday after the Chinese capital was hit by an unusually early snowstorm four days before the start of a key political meeting.

In the 24 hours until Sunday morning the city saw 5.8 centimetres (2.3 inches) of precipitation (rain and snow combined), the highest daily total for any cold season since 1951, the Xinhua news agency said.

The weather prompted city and national authorities to issue an "orange alert" - the second of four warning levels. Authorities would activate the capital's public heating ahead of the planned November 15 date, Xinhua said.

The national meteorological body on Sunday warned of blizzards in the northern provinces surrounding the capital, which do not normally see snow till the end of the month.

Authorities in nearby Shanxi province temporarily shut 10 highways to avoid accidents, while in Inner Mongolia more than 400 trucks became stuck en route and traffic clogged multiple highways, Xinhua reported.

The ruling Communist Party Thursday begins its 18th congress, a major political event which will appoint a new leadership for the next decade.

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