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China Considers Dust Forecast
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China's weather forecasters may soon feature a new element alongside rain, snow and hail -- dust.

A China Meteorological Administration (CMA) official said a "dust forecast" could be introduced at the request of the public.

"Meteorologists considered it a good suggestion from the public," said Wang Bangzhong, deputy director of CMA's Forecast and Disaster Reduction Department. "Relevant experts have been requested by meteorological departments to collect data,"

Dust and sandstorms caused major disruptions to everyday life, particularly in north China, Wang said.

The issue was raised after a strong sandstorm swept north China on April 16 and 17, leaving 330,000 tons of dust on Beijing. The sandstorm affected 1.2 million square kilometers, or one eighth of China's territory, and reached the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

A CMA report shows seven dust-related weather patterns occurred in north China in April, including three strong sandstorms and four high-density dust movements.

One reason behind the frequent dust-related weather was the lasting drought in north China.

China is suffering sustained drought with more than 10 million people suffering drinking water shortages since mid-April, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

A total of 16.6 million hectares of cropland -- 2.1 million more than the annual average -- have been struck by severe drought in most northern regions and in southwestern Yunnan Province.

Meanwhile, 7.88 million head of livestock have also suffered from the shortages of drinking water, it said.

Environmental degradation is also blamed for the dust.

"We should not hold a closed-door meeting while dust swirls around outside," Premier Wen Jiabao told delegates to the sixth National Environmental Protection Conference last month.

The premier linked the weather with China's sustained economic growth. China reached almost all goals set in the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-2005) except the goals for environmental protection, Wen said.

The frequent sandstorms were "a warning signal", which should "arouse heightened vigilance", he said.

However, forecasting dust remains a tough job.

Wang said that dust was affected by wind, rainfall and lack of vegetation, making forecasts "more difficult" than normal weather patterns.

"A thorough investigation is necessary and the preliminary research in the regard is underway," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 2, 2006)

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