BEIJING, CHINA - Light snow covered much of drought-hit north China on Thursday, but the welcome respite was unlikely to signal the end of a severe dry spell that has sparked UN warnings about the impact on crops.
The snow began falling late Wednesday over parched Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces - all key grain-producing areas, the national weather bureau said.
Up to three centimeters (two inches) fell in most places after authorities ordered weather manipulation techniques such as cloud-seeding to induce the precipitation, the China Daily reported.
"The snow won't ease the unusual drought that has lasted for more than 100 days, nor end the impact the aridity has had on farming," the paper quoted an engineer at the Beijing Meteorological Station, Sun Jisong, as saying.
"The possibility of heavier snow remains low."
The snow in the Beijing region was the first precipitation in the capital since rain fell on October 25, and marked the longest wait for the first winter snowfall in six decades, the paper said.
Officials in Henan, one of the provinces hardest hit by the drought, said silver iodide chemicals shot into clouds had ended 116 straight days without precipitation, it said.
On Wednesday, the government pledged US$1 billion (S$1.28 billion) to fight the drought after the United Nations said the lack of precipitation could pose "very serious" problems to China's winter wheat crop, a key harvest for the world's biggest producer of the grain.
At a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, the government decided to allocate funds to pay rice growers higher prices for their grain in a bid to spur production, according to a statement from the State Council, or cabinet.
The statement did not say how much of the 6.7 billion yuan in anti-drought spending would be earmarked specifically for that purpose.
Other spending would go towards diverting water to affected areas, constructing emergency wells and irrigation facilities, and alleviating water shortages for up to three million people.
The State Council warned the situation could worsen, saying rainfall across northern China for the foreseeable future would remain "persistently below normal levels and major rivers will continue to be generally dry."
China has a state policy of grain self-sufficiency and any move to purchase wheat overseas - which some see as increasingly likely - could drive global food prices up and impact world commodity markets.
The agriculture ministry says more than 7.7 million hectares (19 million acres) of winter wheat crops had been affected by the drought, according to state media.