Twenty-five cities across northern China are under red pollution alerts, the highest pollution warning in the Chinese system. Due to the thick haze, thousands of flights have been cancelled. Beijing is under a yellow alert, the second highest pollution warning level. The pollution is due to stagnant air hanging over the northern half of the country. The jet stream has dropped down over southern China, as is normal in winter, but the lack of air circulation bordering the stream, coupled with generalized poor pollution controls in factories and power plants throughout China, has led to this extreme situation.

Conditions in Beijing had been predicted to improve today, but this has not happened. If the situation continues into the week, China could experience the worst smog crisis in its history.

As global warming reduces the power of ocean currents and jet streams, pollution crises like this one will become more common. China reports that approximately 1.6 million deaths a year are due to smog, and some observers put the figure as high as 1.6 million. In the US, which has far more extensive pollution controls than China, approximately 200,000 early deaths take place each year due to air pollution.

To see a current model of the world’s jet streams, click here.