Beijing hit by sandstorm again as pollution goes off the charts

People cross a street during a sandstorm in Beijing, on March 15, 2021.
People cross a street during a sandstorm in Beijing, on March 15, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Beijing residents woke up to yellow sky on Sunday morning (March 28) as northern China was hit by a second sandstorm in less than two weeks.

Air pollution readings surged to the upper limit of 500 at 8am, according to data from the city's environmental monitoring centre, as visibility was reduced to less than 1,000m in parts of the city.

Concentrations of PM10, the inhalable particles commonly associated with sand and dust, rose to more than 2,000 micrograms per cubic metre at some monitoring stations.

Readings of smaller PM2.5 particles were above 300 micrograms per cu m, far higher than China’s standard of 35 micrograms.

PM2.5 particles are especially harmful because they are very tiny and can enter the bloodstream, while PM10 is a larger particle that can enter the lungs.

Visibility in Beijing was reduced, with the tops of some skyscrapers obscured by the sandstorm, and pedestrians were forced to cover their eyes as gusts of dust swept through the streets.

"It’s quite serious today. There’s always a day or two like this (of pollution or dust) each month," said Mr Fan, 39, who did not wish to disclose his full name. 

The China Meteorological Administration issued a yellow alert on Friday, warning that a sandstorm was spreading from Mongolia into northern Chinese provinces including Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Liaoning and Hebei, which surround Beijing.

The meteorological office said the recent sandstorms to hit Beijing originated from Mongolia, where relatively warmer temperature this spring and reduced rain resulted in larger areas of bare earth, creating favourable conditions for sandstorms. 

Beijing might face more sandstorms in April due to the unfavourable weather this year, the meteorological office said.

Local residents took to social media to complain about the increased frequency of sandstorms and worsening air quality this year.

The Chinese capital city was hit by the worst sandstorm since 2017 on March 15.