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Temperatures Drop in Chinese Cities as Streets Empty for Lunar New Year

There is a mass exodus from Chinese cities during the week-long holiday around the Lunar New Year as locals decamp to visit family. The migration is so large that, as cities empty, they see a measurable drop in temperature, a new study finds.

“Many people leave megacities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, to travel to small cities and rural areas for traditional family gatherings,” Zihan Liu, a researcher at Nanjing University and coauthor of the study, said in a statement. The urban exodus leads to an abrupt drop-off in urban driving, in the warming of buildings, and in the operation of factories, all of which generate heat.

During normal times, cities tend to be measurably warmer than surrounding rural areas. But during Chinese New Year, the temperature difference narrows by around a third, the study found. Scientists examined satellite data and on-the-ground temperature data from 31 cities between 2017 and 2019, finding that urban temperatures fell by 0.63 degrees F (0.35 degrees C) on average during the winter holiday. The effect was more pronounced in densely populated urban centers than in city outskirts.

“Future works should pay more attention to citizens living in the city center with disproportionately higher heat exposure,” researchers wrote. The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that a similar large-scale exodus during the summer could help city dwellers cope with extreme heat.


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