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With observational data spanning 1961–1999 from 90 meteorological stations in Xinjiang, China, the spatial and temporal characteristics of sandstorms and strong winds, and the contribution of strong winds to the occurrence of sandstorms are analyzed. Moreover, the dominant wind direction and minimum wind speeds during sandstorm periods are discussed. The research shows that although possessing similar climatic trends, sandstorms and strong winds in Xinjiang have opposite geographical distributions, i.e. places with more sandstorms show fewer strong winds. The contribution of strong winds to sandstorms in northern Xinjiang is larger than that in southern Xinjiang. The dominant wind directions clearly indicate the paths of the weather systems that introduced the sandstorms. The minimum wind speeds in the sandstorms were over 10 ms−1 in northern and eastern Xinjiang and in the Turpan and Yanqi Basins of southern Xinjiang. In Tarim Basin of southern Xinjiang, however, the minimum wind speed was about 6–8 ms−1, and even 6 ms−1 at its southern edge.