There was a sign of respite on Tuesday, as a new weather front was moving in from the north and would probably stir up more sand at least until Wednesday.

 

It means that much of northern China, including the northeast area bordering Russia and the Korean peninsula, will be shrouded in dust, the Central Meteorological Bureau said in its midday forecast.

 

The storm, reportedly the worst in at least five years, hit Beijing overnight on Sunday, turning the sky yellow and prompting residents to dust and wash cars and buildings.

 

Beijing meteorologists were trying hard to induce rain by shooting iodine tablets into cloud formations as the new front moved in, the China Youth Daily reported.

 

Rains forecast for Monday night largely failed to materialise and did little to disperse the suspended dust particles that were hanging over most of northern China, media reports said. 

 

Getting worse

 

The dust storm was the eighth to sweep across Beijing since New Year, compared with a historical average of six a year.

 

It conforms with other data suggesting that the air quality is getting worse in Beijing, which will host the summer Olympics in 2008.

 

Meteorologists said more than 300,000 tonnes of sand and dust was dumped on the city on Monday.

 

"According to calculations ( onMonday) morning, the amount of dust that fell overnight amounted to 20 grams (0.7 ounces) of dust a  square meter ...  This amounts to 336,000 tonnes falling on entire Beijing"

Zhang Mingyang,
Engineer at Beijing Meteorological Station

The Beijing Morning Post quoted Zhang Mingying, a senior engineer at the Beijing Meteorological Station, as saying: "According to calculations (on Monday) morning, the amount of dust that fell overnight amounted to 20 grams of dust a  square metre.

 

"This amounts to 336,000 tonnes falling on entire Beijing."

  

This year, the city has reported 56 "blue sky days,"  defined as days with excellent or fairly good air quality, 16 days fewer than the same period of 2005.

 

Northern China experiences sandstorms almost every spring, but this year the situation has worsened because of high temperatures and a prolonged drought.

 

Breathing problems

 

Yang Keming, a weather forecaster quoted by the China Daily newspaper about Monday's storm, said: "It was definitely one of the most serious pollution days in Beijing

 

"Small children had better stay at home during such days."

 

Medical workers in the respiratory ward of Chaoyang Hospital, one of the capital's biggest, said the number of patients with breathing problems on Monday was two to three times the normal rate.

 

"It was definitely one of the most serious pollution days in Beijing ... Small children had better stay at home during such days"


Yang Keming,
Weather forecaster

Commuters wore surgical masks or wrapped their heads in scarves as protection against the dust.

 

Construction sites, a source of airborne dust on most days, were told to cover exposed earth, state television said. It said some companies were fined for failing to obey the order.

 

Wind bearing dust from China's northern plains often blows as far as South Korea and Japan and sometimes crosses the Pacific Ocean to reach California.

 

Japan's national Meteorological Agency said the dust had reached the country's north and west and warned of reduced visibility.

 

China's government has been replanting "green belts" of trees throughout the north in an effort to trap the dust, after decades when the storms worsened because of heavy tree-cutting.