An overhead view of the Taklimakan Desert in China, which is contributing to a massive sandstorm. (Photo: NASA)
Northern China is experiencing its biggest sandstorm in 10 years, making everyday life exceedingly difficult for residents of Hubei, Hunan, Jianxi and Anhui provinces. Schools have been closed, and drivers are being urged to stay off the roads for lack of visibility.
All that sand is coming from the Gobi desert, which covers vast swaths of Mongolia and northern China. It's finding its way into major cities thanks to unusually strong winds, which in turn are caused by severe weather patterns in Siberia. While sandstorms aren't uncommon in that region, they're rarely quite this bad — or this sudden. This storm moved in remarkably fast, blanketing much of northern China with a wall of sand and dust (and cold — the temperature dropped significantly as the storm moved in, causing many people in rural areas to worry about this year's crops). You can read some more about what sandstorms are and how they work here.
The sand has also turned the sky a dark orange-y hue, even in the middle of the day. And in some places, visibility has been reduced to just 20 metres.
Here's a video showing what it looked like in Gansu province:
For some more images of the sandstorm (and a couple of aerial images showing the storm's progression), check out the gallery above.