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Dust from China blankets the Eastern Sierra ... again

April 21, 2014

A map showing the Gobi Desert. Map/Wikimedia

Dust from China’s Gobi Desert has once again made it to the Eastern Sierra, most notably on Sunday, April 20, when the white haze could be seen pouring over Mammoth Pass in the late afternoon and evening.

At first, local air pollution control district authorities thought the haze was smoke or agricultural dust, but then something about it didn’t seem right.

“When I came in this morning, I looked into it, and sure enough, it was Gobi Desert dust,” said Jon Bucknell, an air pollution control specialist with Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District in Bishop.

The storm in China actually started more than a month ago, raging across the huge desert beginning March 11.

“The gale force winds began on March 11, shrouding northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region under a thick veil of dust and sand,” according to a NASA article published March 23. “

Strong winds continued, lifting a massive cloud of tan dust from the Gobi Desert on March 16 and blowing it across northeast China on March 18.”

Chinese residents were warned to don dusk masks and stay off the roads, but the dust took the rest of the month and most of April to work its way across the Pacific to North America, where is has lingered for the last week or so mostly undetected, Bucknell said.

Locally, it has been camouflaged with a more normal spring haze triggered by agricultural dust, pollen, and wood smoke, all trapped by a mostly dry and stagnant air pattern.

The Gobi Desert dust in the Eastern Sierra used to be an oddity, occurring only every few years, Bucknell said, but that seems to have changed.

“These storms used to only happen only every few years, but in the last four years, the only year that it hasn’t occurred is 2012,” he said.

The dust will likely persist at least until the next storm hits the Eastern Sierra, he said.

According to Mammoth’s amateur weather forecaster, Howard Sheckter, that could be as soon as Tuesday as a light snow/high wind winter storm rolls into the area.

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