Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sandstorm hits Beijing

Tonnes of sand from deserts in China's interior blew into Beijing Saturday, shrouding the capital in a yellow-orange haze that even authorities warned made the air quality "hazardous." Few people took to the streets but many of those that did were wearing facemasks. The dust settled on rooftops and on Beijing's streets and footprints could be seen where people had walked. 

Beijing's weather forecasting bureau gave the air quality a rare "5" or hazardous rating and said it was "not suitable for morning exercises." The US Embassy's air monitoring station also registered the air quality as hazardous. At 07:00the PM2.5 was measured at 473.0; 482; Hazardous. By midday this had reduced to a reading of 156.0; 206; Very Unhealthy. 

High winds swept through the city for much of the day. In the northern Changping district, the wind reached speeds of up to 100 km/h but by late afternoon speeds had dropped to around 55 km/h.

The sandstorms underline the environmental degradation in many parts of the country. However the government has spent millions of dollars on projects to rein in the spread of deserts, planting trees and trying to protect what plant cover remains in marginal areas.

The sandstorm was the biggest this year in China. Such events used to be common in the capital. However, government efforts to combat the problem in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics appear to have paid off in recent years, with residents noting a marked drop-off in incidents.

Nonetheless, many were shocked and surprised by the yellow skies. "Oh the golden glowing sky of a sandstorm in the morning is not how I like to start my day," @sarahplusone posted on Twitter. Another Twitter user, @charlieflint exlaimed, "Gah. I'm inside and my lungs burn. Sandstorm..."

Jo Kent, associate producer for CNN in Beijing, tweeted, "It looks like the end of the world outside. Yellow haze and no visibility." That haze was captured by some and posted on various Twitter related websites such as Twitpic and Tweetphoto.

By late afternoon the skies had cleared, but the ground and many rooftops were still covered in a fine layer of orange dust.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

No comments: