Dusty, sandy air to sweep northern region

The National Meteorological Center issued a blue alert for dust storms - the lowest level of its ratings - for most northern areas in China on Thursday, warning that as a result the region will remain dusty next week.

The center also forecast that sandstorms will hit the southern basin of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region starting Friday.

Meanwhile, parts of the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei and Henan, as well as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, will be blanketed by sand or dust.

Under the influence of strong winds, the dust is expected to affect Beijing, causing its PM10 - particulate matter with diameters of 10 microns - to rise significantly, the center said.

Data from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center showed that on Thursday, the density of PM10 in the capital rocketed to 492 micrograms per cubic meter in its northwestern parts, reaching pollution level Grade 6, the highest air pollution rating. The index dropped to a slightly higher-than-average level several hours later.

According to the center, on Saturday, North China and areas along the Yellow and the Huaihe rivers will experience winds of at least 28 kilometers per hour. The Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea will see winds of up to 88 km/h, and some of its areas will be hit by thunderstorms.

The winds and sandstorms will persist until next week nationwide. The center warned that passengers should be aware of objects falling from high buildings and protect themselves from dust by wearing face masks.

Hu Xiao, chief meteorologist at affiliated with the China Meteorological Administration, said that sandy and dusty weather in spring accounts for about 80 percent of the total for the entire year and happens most intensively in April.

"As the temperature rises rapidly in spring, sand sources in the north thaw. With less rain and more wind, it is easy to form dusty weather, of which the strongest, namely sandstorms, can reduce visibility to less than 500 meters," he said.

On Saturday, moderate to heavy rains will hit South China while cold air and Mongolian cyclones will lead to strong winds and a drop in temperatures to between 4 C and 6 C in North China.

The center warned that people in northern areas should pay attention to the drought conditions and the potential risk of forest and grassland fires.

Local authorities in Xinjiang should especially prepare for geological disasters such as mountain torrents caused by rain and falling temperatures.