Back to blog index

Time to Put Away the Quilted PJs. Probably.

Back in Shanghai, and the city is suffering from a major seasonal confusion disorder. Is it spring? Is it summer already? Could it possibly already be autumn? A whole six months early? That’s the problem with deciding to define seasons by what, on the surface at least, seems like a rigorous scientific method. It can, however, all fall embarrassingly apart in the face of real life weather.

In China, the seasons start and end according to a set of pre-defined weather criteria. I still find this quite a giggle, beacuse it means that a short cold or warm spell can bring on the early arrival of a season before the previous season has had a chance to walk in, sit on the couch and get comfortable.The Shanghai Weather Bureau announced that Spring arrived this year on March 31, after five consecutive days in which the average daily temperature was above ten degrees. Spring’s arrival is ‘back-dated’ to the first of those days. Whatever – we all enjoyed the magnificent magnolia blossoms, the cherry and plum blossoms, and the sight of that green canopy of the plane trees returning to the French Concession, arching back over the streets after months of bare branches.

But this flurry of bud-burst and greenery didn’t last long, because Spring was stopped dead
in its tracks after only 45 days when summer arrived early on May 13 following a brief heatwave, terminating the shortest spring in 20 years. Before I left for Xian, given that summer was well and truly here (daily highs of 34 and 35C) and in a highly unusual burst of organisation and tidiness, I packed away all my winter clothes, washed all my winter woollens, and put all the winter coats -suffering from five months of hard wear- in the dry-cleaning bag. Luckily I wasn’t organised enough to actually take it to the dry-cleaners, because Shanghai was then engulfed by a prolonged cold spell, the temperature plummeting from 35 degrees to a pretty chilly 19 degrees. This has gone on for well over a week now, so people are asking, not unreasonably ‘Is autumn already here?’

Based on the rigorous scientific method, it has. Scamps all over the internet suggested we might be in for the earliest, hottest and longest autumn on record as autumn stretches across the six hottest months of the year. Some thought we could just wait until it’s hot again and announce the re-arrival of summer, and still others suggested we should have a token winter (just a day or two) and then go back to spring again. That’s the problem of pitting rigorous scientific method against the vagaries of the weather.

Of course the Shanghai Weather Bureau guys didn’t think it was funny at all and issued a terse statement published in the Shanghai Daily this week.

‘..weather officials hastily protested yesterday, the five-day rule in relation to autumn shouldn’t apply before li qiu, or beginning of autumn, the 13th of the 24 solar terms in the Chinese lunar calendar which this year falls on August 8.’

(OK. So if Plan A doesn’t work out, switch to Plan B, invoking the Chinese lunar calendar.)

‘Zhang Ruiyi, a chief weather service officer, said the bureau never predicts seasons but only announces them after they have arrived. The five-day rule was just one standard used to determine changing seasons, Zheang said.

People should pay more attention to the daily weather forecasts, Zhang said. 

“The large temperature difference among the days just happens,” Zhang said yesterday. “Never be confused by the readings of the previous day.”‘

So I think what he’s saying is, today it’s safe to air your puffer coats, delouse your quilts, and put your quilted pink pyjamas back in the closet. But tomorrow, you might have to drag them back out again. That’s the weather for you!