The Real Story Behind Beijing's Sandstorm

There's no arguing with someone about the fact that the sky is blue. Unless of course, you live in Beijing, China where, amid rampant dust storms, the sky is yellow and the sun is blue (via The Guardian). In mid-March, this peculiar color reversal gave all of Beijing and surrounding regions an apocalyptic vibe that lit up social media screens, creating a spectacle for the entire world to behold. Reuters published a captivating shot of Drum Tower offset by the murky glow overhead. In an interview initially published by the Reuters News Agency and later reprinted online via BBC, one Beijing resident commented that, "It looks like the end of the world."

Looks can be deceiving, but in this case, air-quality levels reported by experts make the statement a shockingly accurate assessment of what's happening right now. Air pollution, which had been on the decline in China amid the COVID-19 outbreak (via NPR) has suddenly surged to 160 times the recommended limit.

In truth, Beijing's March sandstorm was a layer of hazard-laden dust

The Guardian reports that the apocalyptic tint was brought about as swift winds swept the drought-stricken region of Mongolia, traveling until they soared above the skies of Beijing. While certainly terrifying to look at, the dense pockets of dust were also deadly to inhale. The toxic dust had already claimed at least six lives during NPR's initial reporting with dozens more lost in the noxious storm (via NPR).

As fascination quickly turned to genuine concern, traffic on regional roads halted due to visibility issues. Hundreds of flights were canceled. Residential and commercial buildings were besieged. Hundreds of animals perished. In some extreme cases, people were literally buried alive under the clouds of sand and dust that engulfed the landscape (via NPR).

Experts are now declaring that this was the worst sandstorm to hit Beijing in at least a decade (via Vox). Environmentalists see it as a cry for help. Social media users have drawn parallels between this incident and the raging wildfires in California. As China struggles to implement reforestation, will this storm become emblematic of a shadowy environmental past or will it be a page from a bleak and looming future?