The Chinese capital Beijing was shrouded in thick brown dust on Monday morning in the worst sandstorm in a decade as a result of heavy winds blowing in from Inner Mongolia and other parts of northwestern China. The China Meteorological Administration announced a yellow alert on Monday morning, saying that the sandstorms had spread from Inner Mongolia into the provinces of Gansu, Shanxi and Hebei, which surrounds Beijing. Skyscrapers in the center of Beijing appeared to drop from sight amid the dust and sand. Traffic was snarled and more than 400 flights out of the capital’s two main airports were canceled before noon.
Beijing faces regular sandstorms in March and April as a result of its proximity to the massive Gobi Desert as well as deforestation throughout northern China. Beijing and surrounding regions have been suffering from relatively high levels of pollution in recent weeks, with the city also shrouded in smog during the opening of parliament starting on March 5. Massive planting of trees and bushes in fragile areas has reduced the storms’ intensity, but the expansion of cities and industries has put constant pressure on the environment throughout China. The National Meteorological Center forecasted the sand and dust would affect 12 provinces and regions from Xinjiang in the far northwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast and the eastern coastal port city of Tianjin. “This is the most intense sandstorm weather our country has seen in 10 years, as well as it covering the broadest area,” the center said in a post on its website.