Beijing turned orange last week, as a severe sandstorm that originated over 500 miles away in Inner Mongolia affected the Chinese capital. The national meteorological agency issued a level-five pollution warning, indicating hazardous conditions and urged people to stay indoors. By Saturday the storm had spread over 313 000 sq miles with a population of 250 million affected.
China’s deserts have been expanding due to deforestation, overgrazing, drought and the rapid expansion of urban areas this has lead to one-third of the country now being covered in desert. This growth in deserts is thought to be responsible for a six-fold in the number of sandstorms in the last 50 years to about 24 a year. The storm is forecast to continue moving southeast bringing what is expected to be the worst dust this year to neighbouring South Korea. China is responding though, with thousands of acres of vegetation being planted in the past few years to stop the spread of deserts in the north and west of the country. It is hoped this will slow down a predicted disappearance of earth-packed sections of the Great Wall of China in just 20 years time.
China isn’t the only country to be affected by dust and sandstorms. In recent years British forces seem to gravitate to the dust storm hot spots in the middle east. Both myself and our own sun worshipping policeman experienced one of the worst summers in Iraq for dust storms in 2008. Where a combination of lack of rain over the winter, and the continued affect of the draining of the marshes lead to frequent severe dust storms. The thick dust and poor visibility stopped planes and helicopters flying, as well as hindering troops on the ground, keeping my phone ringing and reducing the tanning time available to the RAFP as the sky turned orange. The current conflict in Afghanistan is just as affected by the fine, talcum powder like dust that covers southern regions. Caught in the Helicopter Ops room one night as a storm hit, I phoned the Met Office for an update, to be told the storm was so big it stretched all the way to Iran. I certainly looked like I’d been tangoed that night!
Compiled by Goldie Dawn
Crown Copyright 2010
Met Office Ascension Island Base