Saharan dust storm bolts out Europe

Spainish authorities recommended people to wear face masks and avoid outdoor exercise.


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Published: Thu 17 Mar 2022, 12:19 AM

The area of Spain rated by its national air quality index as “extremely unfavourable” — its worst rating — expanded from the start of the European event on Tuesday to include most of the nation’s southern and central regions, including Madrid and other major cities like Seville.

Authorities recommended for people to wear face masks — still in wide use because of the pandemic — and avoid outdoor exercise, especially for those people suffering respiratory diseases. Emergency services for Madrid said that so far there had been no increase in calls for care to people with breathing problems.

Visibility was reduced for a large part of Spain. Municipal cleaners swept up the dust from city streets. In Spain’s south, the dust mixed with rain to produce mud.

Curious photos and videos of the dust popped up on social media, including snowboarders cutting beautiful white lines through the red-tinged snow in the Pyrenees Mountains.

Ruben del Campo, spokesman for Spain’s weather service, said that largest quantities of air-born dust will accumulate on Wednesday afternoon in Spain’s southeast and central regions.

“The air will then begin to clear little by little, although some floating dust will reach the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean) over the weekend,” Del Campo said.

To the relief of farmers, the storm front that pulled in the African dust is also forecast to bring more rain over the coming days to Spain’s parched fields and descending reservoirs.

In Switzerland, skiers cut through orange-tinted snows on the Alpine slopes of the Pizol resort near tiny Liechtenstein, while reddish-hued skies loomed over places like the Payerne Air Base near Lake Neuchatel.

The national weather service, MeteoSwiss, said aerosols regularly swoop up dust from the Sahara and the one that began on Tuesday is the third recorded this year and most dramatic. Light from the sky was tinted yellowish-orange in Geneva as weather forecasters predicted skies would stay colored for several days.

The Serbian capital woke up on Wednesday covered in a thick layer of yellow-colour dust that covered pavements and parks after a light rain that fell overnight.

Belgrade, which already is one of the most polluted capitals in Europe because of Serbia’s coal-powered electric plants and factories, has recorded “hazardous” air quality, according to AirVisual. Environmentalists said it is the result of the dust cloud, but also because of Serbia’s perennial pollution problems.

The dust cloud reached as far as London and south-east England on Wednesday, and some of the dust settled on people’s windows and car windscreens as rain brought the particles down to ground level.

“It’s about as strong as it gets, as far as Saharan dust crossing to the U.K.,” said meteorologist Alex Burkill at the Met Office. “Rain has washed the dust from higher up in the atmosphere and brought it down to the surface, that’s why people are seeing it on their windows.”

He added that most people will not see any health impact but some may experience irritation in the eyes or a sore throat.

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