Thursday, February 22, 2007

House of Sand and Fog

According to KBS TV News this evening, it looks like Busan will suffer from 'sand rain' from tomorrow. In recent years, the desertification of Western China and the expansion of the Gobi Desert towards Beijing, as well as the expansion and emergence of numerous other arid regions, has led to an increasing amount of particulate matter from this Asian dustbowl being sucked up to high altitude, before being deposited on China and surrounding regions. The Gobi Desert is the main culprit, leading to the sky taking on a yellow colouring from this 'yellow sand', as the Koreans sometimes call it.

The practical upshot of this has been the increasing regularity of so called 'yellow dust' in Korea, and associated 'sand rain' (or 'mud rain') where this then falls from the sky, usually aided by some precipitation in the clouds above. Problems have already been reported in Korea today with international flights being diverted and 53 domestic flights being cancelled. The Meteorological Agency is warning that people with respiratory ailments such as asthma will likely not be able to survive unprotected outside for longer than a few minutes. If that sounds severe, it's reported that these conditions kill up to 165 Koreans every year, so it's not to be taken lightly. As it happens, it also seems that the storm moving in on us now is a particularly severe one.

In an unfortunate twist, the particles pick up poisonous pollutants over China's industrialised regions, potentially causing further health issues beyond the respiratory problems the sand alone would cause. Since I've just got over a respiratory illness, it's highly likely that I'm going to be confined to the apartment for the duration of any sandstorm event.

Update: And the next day the weather was clear - even in Seoul - and KBS had to admit that their story the previous night was completely wrong.

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