Imagine having neighbors whose yard — once lush and beautiful, filled with grass and trees — became a wasteland. Every time the wind blew hard, dust rose from their torn up plot of earth and wafted into your yard, into your house. It got on your clothes, in your kitchen, in your lungs.
You'd be pretty annoyed at your neighbors, wouldn't you? Well, South Koreans must be fairly ticked off just now, because their entire country is suffering from the worst dust storm the Korean Peninsula has ever seen.
It's basically China's fault. The storm started when strong winds powered through the Gobi Desert in western China and Mongolia before turning day into night in Beijing, and then moving on to sprinkle over Japan and slam into Korea. China's dust problems are well-documented, and largely thought to be the result of deforestation and poor land use management on farms near the arid fringes of the Gobi.
Now, dust storms whipping up from deserts and arid regions all over the world are perfectly natural, if destructive. But this storm is part of a growing trend of increasingly frequent and severe dust events in the region.
The NASA image below gives you an idea of just how monstrously big this thing is:
Where it says "Bohai Sea" you'd normally be able to see dark blue water. But the storm has picked up so much earth that it's completely masked. The North & South Korea are just out of the image to the right, probably looking just as dusty and brown.
Over the weekend, the Korea Meteorological Association (KMA) issued a dust warning for all of South Korea. Warnings are issued any time dust levels exceed 800 micrograms per cubic meter of air — enough to pose a serious health hazard to anyone breathing in the stuff. Record measurements topped out at 2,847 micrograms per cubic meter. Yuck.
The good news is these monster storms can be stopped, or at least contained. Similar "black blizzards" wreaked havoc across the American heartland during the 1930's in the infamous Dust Bowl. But the U.S. learned its lesson, and altered farming and land use practices to minimize the risk of mega storms in the future. As you can see in this great video from Discovery News' own James Williams, it worked:
We can only hope China follows that lead.
Image: NASA Earth Observatory