Beijing Skies Turn Yellow as Sand, Dust Engulf Chinese Capital

Beijing Skies Turn Yellow as Sand, Dust Engulf Chinese Capital
Pedestrians stand on an overpass above car traffic amid a duststorm in Beijing, China, on April 15, 2021. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

BEIJING—The skies above Beijing turned yellow and air pollution soared to severe levels as a giant cloud of sand and dust particles rolled into the city, propelled by strong winds from the north of China.

Beijing's air quality index rose to 324 as of 4:00 p.m. local time (0800 GMT) on Thursday, mainly due to larger particles of sand and dust, municipal authorities said.

It worsened in the evening, exceeding 1,300 in some parts of the city, according to the Swiss IQAir app.

The particles originated from Mongolia and the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, and high winds are expected to carry the pollutants to central and eastern China by Friday, the China Meteorological Administration said.

The amount of sand in the air was less than that during two sandstorms in northern China last month, but the wind speed was higher, allowing the dusty weather to travel faster and farther, according to the meteorological administration.

"I don't feel good. We have had several dust storms this year," said Gary Zi, a 48-year-old Beijing resident working in the finance sector.

"The (air) quality is much worse than in previous years," he added. "Breathing becomes difficult. Sand gets into your eyes and your nose."

China typically blames Mongolia's Gobi desert for its annual sandstorms.

Delegates from China's arid Gansu region said in a proposal to parliament last month that over half of the dust storms that descend on China each year come from abroad, mainly from the south of Mongolia.

Beijing has been planting millions of trees along its border to block out sandstorms, part of a project known as the "Great Green Wall."

"I feel it is all climate change," said another Beijing resident as he wiped the dust from his motorbike near the China World Trade Center, giving only his surname, Xie. "(We) can't do much about it."

By Ryan Woo and Martin Quin Pollard