Northern China hit by more sandstorms in March; authorities launch 24-hour monitoring
Published: Mar 23, 2023 05:13 PM Updated: Mar 23, 2023 05:10 PM
Photo: Li Hao/GT

Beijing reports high pollution levels on March 22, 2023 as the largest sandstorms of 2023 sweep across northern China from March 21, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Northern China has been hit by more sandstorms this March compared with previous years, the result of multiple factors including stronger winds generated by cold fronts, higher temperatures and poor vegetation coverage in the southern parts of Mongolia and northern China due to lower precipitation. 

Since the beginning of March, four dust weather events, including two sandstorms and two dust events have buffeted China, compared to only two last year, and close to 3.3 yearly average recorded over the past 20 years, a statement from China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration said. 

The most recent severe sandstorm swept through the vast area of northern China between March 19 and 22, covering a larger area and at a higher intensity than has typically been recorded in prior years. 

A total of 15 Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions including Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shandong and Henan, covering a combined area of 3.62 million square kilometers and a population of 560 million people have been affected by sandstorms. 

Localities including Ruoqiang in Xinjiang, Zhangye in Gansu, Erenhot city in Inner Mongolia and Baicheng in Jilin have been particularly impacted by recent sandstorms. 

Affected by the sandstorm, China’s capital city Beijing was blanketed with dust on Wednesday, with dust and sand particles extending over nearly 1 million square kilometers of land and pushing the PM 10 above 1,400 microgram per cubic meter across the whole city at 8 am, according to the Beijing Ecological and Environmental Monitoring Center. 

As of Wednesday morning, air quality in more than 60 cities has reached the level of severe pollution or above due to the impact of sandstorms, with the primary pollutants being PM 10. 

The China National Environmental Monitoring Centre on Wednesday forecast above average to high pollution levels in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the central and southern parts of its surrounding areas on Thursday. 

The National Forestry and Grassland Administration said the main cause of the recent sandstorms included frequent cold fronts producing strong winds, which had fueled the more intense sandstorms. Multiple localities recorded wind speeds of over 20.8 meters per second, reaching gale force levels. 

Temperatures across Mongolia and northwest China, the common starting point of sandstorms, have been higher than usual between late February and early March. The unstable air temperature has provided the necessary warmth to generate more intense sandstorm. 

Moreover, the vegetation coverage in the southern part of Mongolia in 2022 was worse than that of 2021 and well below levels recorded over the past 20 years. Parts of North China have also seen deterioration of vegetation coverage due to low precipitation. 

The National Forestry and Grassland Administration has launched a 24-hour dynamic monitoring mechanism to closely observe sandstorms with measures including satellite remote sensing monitoring, ground observation as well as field reporting. 

Meanwhile, the administration is coordinating with metrological authorities to release sandstorm forecasts and warnings to likely impacted regions ahead of time.  

Global Times