Winter storms have caused an estimated $7.5bn in economic losses

China's worst winter storms in perhaps 50 years continue to wreak havoc across nearly two-thirds of the country's provinces, disrupting power supplies, collapsing thousands of structures and paralysing transport by air, rail, and road.

According to AIR, heavy snow and ice have destroyed 223,000 houses, damaged another 862,000, and caused an estimated $7.5bn in economic losses, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

In many rural areas, farmers have suffered heavy agricultural and livestock losses. More than 60 people have been killed.

“Some forecasters are linking the intensity of the storm to La Nina, a phenomenon in which sea surface temperatures across the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean are lower than normal,” said Dr Peter Sousounis, senior research scientist at AIR Worldwide.

“Specifically, La Nina intensifies the East Asian Winter Monsoon, causing cold surges from Siberia to travel farther south and more frequently across south eastern China.

“La Nina can also generate much stronger winds at the jet stream level, which provides energy for storm development. So, for the last 20 days – since mid January - cold air from the north, moisture from the China Sea, and energy from above have been fuelling the frequent storm development in China.

“The regions of China impacted most by the heavy snow correspond to areas where these ingredients overlap with the greatest intensity.”

Hunan Province in southern China was hardest hit. In the city of Chenzhou (population 4 million), residents have been without water and electricity for 10 days. Hunan's main north-south highway was finally cleared on Monday.

In Hubei Province, to Hunan’s north, people are standing in line to get water from pumps on the street.

Outside the cities, many poor, rural regions have been without electricity for up to two weeks. In Guizhou province, an electrical tower collapsed under heavy snow, cutting off power to 41 cities and counties.

Supplies of coal have been disrupted to dozens of regional power plants, exacerbating electricity outages. Though officials are working diligently to restore collapsed power lines, the progress is slow. Some 300,000 soldiers have been deployed to help. They are using flamethrowers to de-ice power lines. Military cargo planes have delivered hundreds of thousands of candles to homes without electricity. Tanks, meanwhile, are being used to clear ice from highways.

China's severe winter weather arrived just ahead of the Chinese New Year, when millions of city migrant workers head home to rural towns.

Over the weekend, snow and ice stranded hundreds of thousands of workers at train stations.

More than one million Chinese were left waiting for transport in the southern city of Guangzhou, and though transportation conditions have gradually improved, they have not done so quickly enough; on Saturday, a woman was trampled to death by an eager crowd swarming toward a station in Guangzhou. The crowd had just learned of the reopening of the station's northbound route.

Brief gaps between storms have given Chinese troops the opportunity to begin clearing roads and rail lines. Train and bus travel resumed over the weekend, highways reopened, and fewer flights were cancelled.

Shanghai Railway Station transported 795,000 passengers on Saturday alone—a high so far. However, the latest weather reports indicate that more harsh weather is on the way. Meteorologists forecast another cold front, not uncommon during the winter months, in the next few days.