The worst sandstorm in a decade hit China’s capital and a large swath of the country’s north on Monday, causing hundreds of flights to be canceled.
Among the dust and sand, skyscrapers in Beijing’s downtown area seemed to vanish. Due to strong winds and poor visibility, more than 400 flights out of the capital’s two main airports were cancelled.
The storm formed in the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia, according to the National Meteorological Center, where schools were advised to close and bus service was added to minimize residents’ exposure to the harsh weather.
Sand from western deserts blew eastwards, impacting areas as far as northern Japan, causing such storms to occur on a regular basis in the spring.
In recent years, massive tree and bushes planting in vulnerable areas has helped to mitigate the impact on other parts of the world, but the growth of cities and industry, as well as strip mining and overgrazing, has placed constant pressure on the environment across China. Inner Mongolia, with its combination of desert and grassy steppe, is especially susceptible to resource-related extreme weather.
Sandstorms, like COVID-19, which is thought to have spread from bats and other wild animals, serve as a reminder of the importance of treating nature with reverence, according to Zhou Jinfeng, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.
“In conjunction with the pandemic, that is another important lesson we should learn and improve our behavior,” Zhou said.
Sand and dust is expected to affect 12 provinces and regions, ranging from Xinjiang in the far northwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast, as well as the eastern coastal port city of Tianjin, according to the National Meteorological Center.
In a statement on its website, the center said, “This is the most extreme sandstorm weather our country has seen in ten years, as well as it covering the broadest area.”
Despite attempts to end Beijing’s choking smog, it was unclear if the storm was linked to a recent general decline in air quality.
Over the next five years, the ruling Communist Party has vowed to slash carbon emissions per unit of economic production by 18%. China, according to environmentalists, needs to do more to reduce its reliance on coal, which has made it the world’s largest emitter of climate-changing gases.