Friday, October 11, 2013

PM2.5 Forecast for Beijing - Friday, October 11, 2013

On Friday, we still have a bit longer with good air before things deteriorate again.  Things should generally stay in the Good or Moderate range through the morning, but by noon we should see levels start to move up.  With steady increases, we could end up at Unhealthy before the day is over. 

UPDATE - Here's how the day played out:


  1. Hi!
    My name is Erika, I'm from Brazil and would be going to China on vacation with my husband, but I'm so scared with the pollution and smog. I almost decided to cancel all the trip... i'm very sad and worried about health conditions, and whether if we will see only smog and not the tourist attractions :(
    Do you live in Beijing? Could you give me some help?
    My trip is in 15 days!!
    that smog we saw in the golden week? wich measure was that? more than hazardous? Is it commom in november?
    thank you,

  2. Hi Erika,
    Yes, we do live in Beijing, so we're very familiar with the air quality here. Unfortunately, 15 days out is much too far to try to make a prediction, so we can only talk generally about air quality here and what things look like on average.
    The sad truth about air quality in Beijing is that, on any given day, Beijing and the surrounding areas produce enough pollution to create Unhealthy or worse conditions. (Note: the designations we use - Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, Hazardous, etc. - are taken from the US EPA's air quality standards and the PM2.5 monitor at the US Embassy in Beijing.) But Beijing has weather that is constantly changing, and this air movement tends to push out pockets of pollution and bring in clean air for short periods of time. So if you look at nearly any time period one week in length, you will see part of the time with Good or Moderate air quality and part of the time with Unhealthy air quality. Because of this, regardless when you visit Beijing, unless you are incredibly lucky, you will see some of the days with Unhealthy conditions, and you can see that manifested in gray, hazy skies.
    In addition to the general rule of often-changing air quality, the season has a significant effect on air quality. During colder weather (approximately October-March or April), our bad air quality days are much more likely to be very bad because there is much more pollution from coal burning during the cold weather. The pollution levels you saw during Golden Week are not typical during the summer, but they are not unusual during cold weather. For example, between the end of June and the end of September (3 months time), we didn't see any readings at the Hazardous level, and only 15 days had a couple hours or more of Very Unhealthy air. But during February and March 2013 (only 2 months), we saw 16 days that had at least a couple hours of Hazardous readings and 26 days that had at least a couple of hours of Very Unhealthy readings. That's almost 50% of the days in February and March that had some Very Unhealthy readings vs. about 17% of the days in July-September with some Very Unhealthy readings. You're coming in late October/November, and the air quality then is probably fairly comparable to March's air quality. The best we can do right now is reference the general averages to talk about your likely experience. If you were here a week, you would probably see between 1 and 3 days of Good/Moderate air quality; between 2 and 4 days of Unhealthy air quality; and between 2 and 3 days of Very Unhealthy or worse air quality. (Of course, as you can see from our predictions, one day can go from Good to Very Unhealthy or vice versa, so you can't assume that you would only have 1 day as your chance to get out.)

    1. So with that, the next question is - what do I do? I can confirm that there are many people here, both Chinese and expats, who don't pay any attention to air quality and do whatever they want whenever they want. They seem to exhibit few negative symptoms aside from a persistent cough around periods of particularly bad air. But, if you have asthma, emphysema, or some other respiratory condition, it would be a good idea to consult your doctor before coming here. When we have extremely bad air conditions here (maybe two or three times a year), many elderly people, people with respiratory conditions, and small children have to go to the hospital. Even if you don't have a respiratory condition and you're concerned about the air quality, you can bring a breathing mask (look for one designated as N95) to use when you're outside and the air is particularly bad. Our family does not have any preexisting respiratory issues, and as long as we limit our exposure to the very bad air (Very Unhealthy or worse) we don't see symptoms from the air, aside from the occasional headache after spending part of a day in it. But we do use N95 masks as much as possible whenever the readings go high into Unhealthy or worse. So the bottom line, for me, is that unless you have a preexisting medical issue, you should be fine coming for vacation. You might visit historic sites and not have gorgeous pictures if you're there on a gray, hazy day, but the pollution rarely prevents you from seeing what you want to. Best of luck with the trip!!

  3. Wow! Thank you very much for your explanation, and for taking some time with that.
    I already bought some n95 masks here in Brazil (and these masks are hard to find here)
    I think it is really sad all this situation and never tought I could be so worried about a trip like I really am that time. But this is how the things are, unfortunately.
    Just one more question! If I were caught in a hazardous day, I'm afraid that we could have difficulties to breathe and sleep at night, this can happen!? Or am I dramatizing!
    This worries me cause my husband is a healthy adult but he suffers from sinusitis.
    Thank you a lot, really. You blog is very useful! I have a travel blog here in Brazil and I will recommend yours for everyone who is planning to make a trip to Beijing!!

  4. Mrsmith, just have one more doubt!
    Even when we are indoor we need to keep the masks!? I mean, in a very unhealthy day, if we stay at our hotel room ( gonna stay at Novotel XinQiao) the air conditions are bad at the point we need to use masks and have difficulties to breathe and sleep?
    I'm sorry if I am bothering you, just want to make a decision based on reliable information like yours, and I'm sorry for my poor english!
    Thank you very much

    1. Depending on where you are, the air quality indoors may or may not be the same as outside. If you land at the airport on a bad air day, you can see in the open areas the same haze that you see outside. So if you are in a place like the airport that has many doors/openings and lots of open space (or a place that just keeps their doors or windows open), you can assume that the indoor air quality is the same or nearly the same as outside. But for most other places, you can assume that the air quality is at least a little better indoors. For me, if I am in a place with unknown air quality on a bad air day, I avoid heavy exertion (things like running or other exercise) just to be safe. During normal activities, you tend to breathe much less deeply, so you should have less exposure to the pollution.
      For the sinusitis, I would guess it would not be a problem. When we experience symptoms from the pollution, it's generally not nasal - you feel it in your chest as a dry kind of cough. It's not usually the kind of thing that would make you feel like you're having difficulty breathing unless you're experiencing asthma-like symptoms. But if you have any background with asthma or other respiratory condition, I would definitely talk to your doctor to plan for what to do if the pollution aggravates it.