An unusually early and bracing start to winter in China is adding to unease over power and food shortages, undermining triumphant messaging about the stewardship of President Xi Jinping as the Communist Party begins a key meeting of top leaders in Beijing.

Over the weekend, up to eight inches of snow blanketed much of northeastern China, closing airports, highways and schools. In contrast to the region’s typically dry winters, forecasters predict precipitation to continue all week. In Heilongjiang, the province that borders Siberia, authorities are warning of record sleet, slush and snowstorms before Wednesday.

On social media, users shared videos of dogs of playing in the snow, intricately carved ice sculptures and people skiing down city roads, as well as scenes of snow crashing down on pedestrians, and a vegetable market that collapsed.

For many in China, the plummeting temperatures echoed a similar cold snap in 2008 when the usually temperate south was devastated by heavy snowfall that froze power lines, dealt a heavy blow to the local fishing industry and sparked protests at train stations by stranded travelers.

State broadcaster CCTV on Monday argued that, while the freezing weather was caused by a similar La Niña climate phenomenon of cooler-than-usual Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, this year was unlikely to reach those levels.

Even so, in a year when flooding and other extreme weather events have claimed hundreds of lives and the country has been shrouded in sandstorms, illustrating the effects of climate change, authorities aren’t taking chances.

Some 190 sections of icy national highways across nine provinces in northern China were shuttered over the weekend and at least three provinces canceled classes. Beijing city turned on central heating nine days earlier than usual.

The disruptions come as Xi presides over a high-level meeting of Chinese Communist Party cadres, which is expected to pass a resolution on a centenary of party history, bolstering his prospects of securing an expected third term next year and cementing his place as China’s most powerful leader in decades.

But in the run-up to the meeting, which opened Monday and concludes Thursday, a propaganda campaign about Xi’s deft personal leadership of the country has been undermined by disruptions to China’s economy, which had recovered quickly after coronavirus shutdowns last year.

Just over a month ago, a coal supply crunch combined with soaring electricity demand from industry led to blackouts in northeast China as local governments were forced to ration power.

Last week, a notice from the Ministry of Commerce advising families to stock up on daily essentials for the winter led to empty supermarket shelves and shoving matches over sacks of rice after it was widely interpreted as a sign of impending food shortages.

Rising prices for vegetables, which authorities have blamed on natural disasters and rising fertilizer prices, added to those fears. One supermarket in Shenzhen told local media that its sales increased tenfold in two days, exceeding amounts in April 2020, at the peak of China’s coronavirus outbreak.

The People’s Daily, official newspaper of the party, quickly told the public there was no need to panic, declaring the advice a precautionary measure in case of further extreme weather or coronavirus lockdowns that could trap people at home.

At the same time, confirmed infections from an outbreak of the delta variant, the latest test for China’s steadfast effort to eliminate the virus, reached more than 1,000 cases across 44 cities as of Monday.

Official statements on each issue have balanced messages to alleviate concern while signaling a difficult winter ahead. China’s State Grid, for example, said on Sunday that power supply had returned to normal but warned of the need for a continued sense of urgency through to spring to face the ongoing “great challenge” of meeting electricity demand.