Hong Kongers yesterday awoke to the coldest day this winter when the temperature at the Hong Kong Observatory fell below 8 degrees Celsius.

It was several degrees lower in most parts of the New Territories while early risers at Ngong Ping saw the mercury dip to a freezing 0.9 degrees Celsius, less than a degree off the all-time low of 0 degree Celsius recorded on January 18, 1893.

Despite the blistering cold, there were no reports of snow as was the case in several areas of the New Territories on December 14, 1975 when temperatures were just above freezing point.

The Observatory said yesterday the cold mornings would persist through the Lunar New Year holidays with the daily highs unlikely to break 15 degrees Celsius.

Today will be partly cloudy with scattered showers and a low of 11 and a high of 15 degrees.

Showers will continue through tomorrow with the cloud cover expected to break on Thursday until Saturday.

A winter monsoon combined with a rain band covering southern China had led to near freezing temperatures last week and over the weekend, according to the Observatory's scientific officer Ng Ping-wing. "An overcast sky blocked out sunlight forcing the temperature down on the ground.

"Transient dry air from the north helped break up clouds yesterday but the weather today and tomorrow will still be cloudy," he said.

The cold weather warning, which was first used in 1999, has been in force for a record 240 hours, breaking January 2004's mark of 205 hours.

However, this pales into insignificance when compared with the 30 days in January 1918 when daily mean temperatures were consistently below 12 degrees Celsius.

Chinese hot-pot and Japanese shabu-shabu restaurants did a roaring trade over the weekend with people looking for ways to stay warm while whetting their appetites.

The Department of Health has warned diners to be on guard for food-borne diseases.

Electronic and home appliance stores have also been enjoying the cold-weather boom with Fortress stores in Sha Tin and Yuen Long running low on stocks of home heaters.

"In the past week alone, we have sold somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 heaters.

"Compared with last year, we have seen at least a 50 percent growth in heater sales and even our suppliers are having trouble keeping up," said a Fortress spokesperson.

The Observatory maintained its advisory for caregivers and families to check in on the elderly or people with chronic medical conditions living alone.