If you're an American and are trying to compare this to anything you've breathed recently, don't bother. The absolute smoggiest parts of L.A. (the most polluted city in the U.S.) hit 130 on a bad day. Most of the city hovers from 40 to 70. In other words, a "bad day" of smog in Beijing is five to 10 times as bad as the smoggiest days L.A. will ever see. Take a look:
It's like the whole city uses Instagram's "cataracts" filter."
That's Beijing on a bad day -- our source adds, "Even on an OK day, you can't see the sun." But, that's not on its worst day -- because on that type of day, you can't even see the skyline. A photo of it would just be a square blotch of blurry nothing. Or, as our source puts it, " ... I was driving, and visibility was down to, the news said, 100 meters. It was not 100 meters; I could see out to 60 feet safely. Headlights were useless. It's not like fog -- it's brown. You can't see through brown. A few times there were reports of it grounding flights."
Yeah, that's the other thing: When Beijing's smog gets really bad, it's a schedule-fucker on the level of a snow storm ("My girlfriend [a teacher] just got her first smog day; it's like a snow day but with more cancer.") In 2011, smog forced the entire Beijing airport to close. As a result, Beijing residents (Beijingers, seriously) can check out the daily smog forecast alongside the daily weather forecast. "You look out the window ... you can see when it's going to be smoggy. There's a forecast online. Depending on how windy it is, winter is the worst ... It's more ... savory. The air tastes more savory. It's kind of like when you blow the dust off a book -- like that smell and taste."
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Mmmm ... today tastes gray and crunchy.
So, yes, we're talking apocalyptic levels of smog here. Last December, a woman went walking in the woods, and the smog was so bad that she got lost and had to be rescued by the police. "We have a red brick building like a block away. If we don't feel like looking up the pollution index, we can pretty much guess where it is by whether or not we can see the red brick building."