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An Aerial View of China's Colossal Dust Storm

It's said to be the largest sandstorm to hit northern China in 10 years.


It's not often that weather rolls in carrying a distinct "mouthfeel." Yet that's been the case the last few days in China, where a massive windstorm coated buildings, cars, and tongues with gritty desert dust.

Northern China's not unaccustomed to dust barrages triggered by Siberian weather fronts to the north. This one's a bit different: It moved eastward across the country with incredible speed and power. Look how far the leading dust-wall had surged in these NASA satellite images, taken on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. local time and then 2:20 p.m.:

And this satellite shot looking down at the Taklamakan Desert shows the storm was still mightily riled up on Thursday:

The Chinese media is calling it the largest sandstorm to hit the region in a decade; NASA has settled for "China’s Great Wall of Dust." Cities and towns engulfed in the particle swell experienced visibility conditions of 60 to 160 feet, and the composition of the dust made the sky glow orangish-yellow, like the inside of a jack-o-lantern. In some places, trains were delayed, roads shut down, and school children kept at home until the cold front carrying the dust dissipated.

What's it like to be in the middle of one of these things? Footage from Wednesday in Gansu Province provides the answer – it's pretty miserable:

Top image: A woman works in the field during a dust storm in Hami, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on Wednesday. (Reuters / China Daily)

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.