China’s capital and much of northern China were engulfed by the worst sandstorm in a decade on Monday, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights on Monday.
Skyscrapers in downtown Beijing seemed to have disappeared from sight amid the dust and sand. Traffic was severely affected and more than 400 flights due to depart from the capital’s two main airports were canceled before dawn.
Such a storm is common in spring, when sand from western deserts is blown eastward by the wind, and affects places as far north as Japan.
Mass planting of trees and shrubs in vulnerable areas has reduced the intensity of storms, but the expansion of cities and industries has put constant pressure on the environment across China.
The National Meteorological Center estimated that sand and dust would affect 12 provinces and regions, from Xinjiang in the far northwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast, as well as the eastern coastal city of Tianjin.
This is the most intense sandstorm our country has seen in 10 years, and the one covering the widest extent, the center said on its website.
It was unclear whether the storm was related to a general decline in air quality despite efforts to combat pollution and smoke in Beijing.
The Communist Party government has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. Environmentalists say China must do more to reduce its dependence on coal, which has made the country the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.