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China air pollution

Shanghai in path of massive sandstorm choking northern China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 12:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

A severe dust storm choking northern China is expected to descend on Shanghai on Friday afternoon.

The city’s municipal government warned on Thursday that air pollution from the storm would persist until Saturday morning.

Over 50 Beijing flights cancelled or delayed as sandstorms hit northern China

Environmental and weather authorities urged residents to take precautions such as closing windows, minimising outdoor activities and wearing face masks.

Sand and dust storms have hit more than 10 provinces and big cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, this week, blanketing 1.6 million sq km, or about 15 per cent of the nation’s total land mass, according to Xinhua.

The dust and sand originated in Mongolia and were blown in by winds that felled trees in their path.

In Beijing, a man was injured after he was hit by heavy debris thrown into the air by strong wind in Haidian district, The Beijing News reported. Other media outlets earlier said the man had died, but latest updates said the man was undergoing an operation for critical head injuries.

Falling trees also hit some vehicles, causing severe traffic jams in downtown areas.

The strong winds and poor visibility forced the cancellation of 38 flights at Beijing Capital International Airport on Friday, a day after more than 50 flights were cancelled or delayed.

Zhang Bihui, senior engineer with the National Meteorological Centre in Beijing, said cold air from the Arctic had stirred up powerful whirlwinds in the deserts of Mongolia, Xinhua reported.

But some of the sand also came from the denuded landscape in China’s Inner Mongolia.

The dust and sand was being carried about at an altitude of about 5km and could not be stopped by vegetation, he said.

Sand and dust storms are most common in China in the spring season, but Zhang said the frequency of the storms had dropped noticeably in recent years due to climate change.

The number of “sandy days” in Beijing, for instance, had dropped from the peak of 26 per year in the 1950s to just three annually since 2010.

China’s Xinjiang region hit by huge sandstorm

The change was in part caused by massive reforestation programmes, but more importantly due to higher global temperatures which had rapidly melted Arctic ice and weakened the northerly winds, Zhang said.

Visibility in most of northern China is expected to improve significantly by Friday afternoon.