Will sand and dust storm in UAE linger until next week?

Motorists and residents faced reduced visibility on the roads, which came down to a few hundred metres


Nandini Sircar

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UAE dust storm. May 2022. Photo by Shihab
UAE dust storm. May 2022. Photo by Shihab

Published: Wed 18 May 2022, 6:15 PM

Last updated: Wed 18 May 2022, 6:35 PM

The thick orange haze of dust storm that has blanketed the UAE will last for a few more days with a possibility to linger until the next week, according to experts from the National Centre of Meteorology (NCM). However, the visibility is likely to improve by Thursday.

Motorists and residents faced reduced visibility on the roads, which came down to a few hundred metres. This comes after north-westerly winds of up to 40 kilometres swept across the UAE on Tuesday and Wednesday, covering cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Meteorology experts highlight that a sandstorm is different from a dust storm, and sandstorms in each area, would have their unique characteristics.

"This is a storm starting over North of Saudi Arabia and is extending over our area. But if you talk of the entire Middle East, it's a different story. Over Egypt and North Africa, it is quite different, all storms have different characteristics, and the causes are varied. For example, this storm is happening due to low pressure over North of Iraq and Jordon and is associated with strong winds. These areas are desert areas, and therefore they are experiencing dust storms and sandstorms.

"After that, this low pressure gradually moves towards the East and then strong north-westerly winds will move from North- Arabian Gulf to our area. So, all this dust is moving towards the South, still too far for the UAE. So, in North Africa or Egypt, it's a different case and has different characteristics," says Dr Ahmed Habib, meteorology expert in the UAE.

Difference between sandstorm and dust storm

A sandstorm is caused by strong winds that make the loose sand particles vibrate.

In a process called saltation, the particulates are carried up because of the force of the wind, before being brought down to the ground again. Once they become fine particles, they suspend in the air and travel.

According to National Habor Weather Service, the particles in a dust storm are smaller in size than particles in a sandstorm. Apparently, it can be launched higher, and people can experience dust-filled air over an extensive area.

Dust storms can be categorised as localised and channelised dust storms to weather-related dust storms.

He adds, “In countries North of the Arabian Gulf, it is a storm. But in the UAE, it’s not a storm, it is dust suspension. This phenomenon happens every year. But sometimes the frequency increases, and sometimes the frequency decreases. But every year, we experience this. The UAE is not experiencing strong winds, unlike Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordon, who are experiencing really strong winds."

Whether climate change will result in increased intensity and frequency of sand and dust storms is still unknown. Shamal winds (are low-level north-westerly winds) blow almost continuously in summer, often stirring up huge clouds of sand and dust.

“We are still experiencing north-westerly wind; the entire area is experiencing a dust storm. But there is another kind of dust storm over Iraq and north Saudi Arabia. So, some dust storms may again approach our area. Over the next five days, we will generally experience dusty weather. But this will be less than yesterday. So, the haziness will continue over the next few days,” Habib adds.


A severe dust storm that hit the Middle East in April 2015, reducing visibility, led to road accidents, flight delays and even school closures. This led researchers at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to undertake UAE’s first comprehensive dust climatology study.

It proved to be a turning point in the region’s capabilities to manage the effects of dust storms adequately. Consequently, it further led to access to an accurate forecast of dust events and sandstorms to prepare people of its impacts better.

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