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Desert storm blankets most of North China

[ 2010-03-22 13:08]     字号 [] [] []  
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The sky across North China turned dark yellow over the weekend as the biggest sandstorm of the year offered a grim reminder of the impact of the country's worsening desertification.

Tons of sand carried by winds of up to 100 km/h have affected more than 270 million people in 16 provinces since Friday, covering about 2 million sq km, said meteorological experts. The storm, the worst since January of last year, reached Shanghai on Sunday.

Thanks to overgrazing, deforestation, urbanization and drought, deserts now make up more than 16 percent of the country, and scientists say the shifting sands are increasing the risk of sandstorms - the grit from which could travel as far as the western United States.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences estimates that the number of sandstorms has jumped six-fold in the past 50 years to two dozen a year.

About 80 percent of sandstorms occur between March and May, with the country experiencing an average of 5.2 dusty days - often a byproduct of sandstorms - in April, said Lin Jian, chief forecaster with the China Meteorological Administration.

However, as the dusty weather started later than usual this year, it could indicate that the number of sandstorms may be fewer than in recent years, he said.

In Beijing, residents woke on Saturday morning to find the city's streets blanketed by yellow dust. According to the National Meteorological Center, the sand traveled from deserts in the Mongolian People's Republic and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

China's national weather bureau gave the air quality a rare 5 rating - "heavily polluted" - and visibility was so bad that several flights had to be delayed at Beijing Capital International Airport, according to staff. The high-speed rail

service between Beijing and Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, was also suspended for about two hours.

Residents were advised to keep windows closed, and to use masks and scarves to protect their eyes and mouths when going outside.

The storm also affected power supplies in cities across North China, and even severed Internet links for several hours. Drivers had to turn on their car headlights to see through the midday dust, while some of the passenger ships scheduled to leave ports in Shandong province were delayed.

Although sandstorms in the country have often been related to the Siberian cold front, scientists say deserts are the ultimate source of sandstorms. China is home to about 1.6 million sq km of desert, said Zhang Xiaoye, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, who insisted that the "vast majority had been there for hundreds of thousands of years".

"About 80,000 sq km of grassland turned into deserts in the past few decades. With solid forestation and well-covered construction sand, the intensity of the dust and sand could be curbed. But essentially they can't be stopped," he said. "It's wrong to think cities with good forestation and conservation efforts could prevent sandstorms once and for all."


1. What percentage of China is desert?

2. What caused sandstorms?

3. When do sandstorms occur?


1. 16 percent.

2. Desertification caused by Overgrazing, deforestation, urbanization and drought.

3. About 80 percent of sandstorms occur between March and May.


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Desert storm blankets most of North China

About the broadcaster:

Desert storm blankets most of North China

Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is fluent in Korean and has a 2-year-old son.