A huge Saharan dust cloud approaches Spain during extreme heat

by Lorraine Williamson
extreme heat

MADRID – A huge air mass filled with Saharan dust is approaching Spain and, together with the extreme heat in large parts of Spain, will cause a nuisance. Mud showers are also expected in some parts of the country. 

Extreme heat has been a major factor across Spain this week with temperatures even higher than those usually reached in July and August. The mercury will approach 40ºC at many points. But the heat is not the only thing that endangers health; the immense calima will practically take over the entire territory. 

The solar radiation (with more than 14 hours of sunlight in May) together with the atmospheric stability due to the presence of the anticyclone is driving the thermometers all over Spain this week. At points in the centre and north of the peninsula, temperatures are already close to 33 C, and in the southern half, they reach 35 ºC in the afternoon. 

Possibly earliest heat wave in history 

Temperatures will rise further in the coming days due to the mass of warm and dry air from Africa, accompanied by a scorching southerly wind. Furthermore, in Madrid, Toledo, Zaragoza or Navara, thermometers easily reach 37º. In Badajoz, Ciudad Real, Sevilla, Córdoba and Jaén it can reach 40ºC. If confirmed by the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet), it will be the earliest heat wave in history and the highest temperature for May. 

The calima a new company for the extreme heat 

The southerly flow carries dust in suspension. This causes the calima in the air with reduced visibility, especially from the weekend. On Wednesday afternoon, the dust cloud already reached the south of Spain, Ceuta, and Melilla. It will arrive in the east, parts of the centre, and the north of the peninsula on Thursday. 

On Friday, Saharan dust levels will be significant in the southern and western half of the peninsula, and on Saturday the orange-brown mass will move east. 

On Saturday, the calima will hit most of the peninsula and the Balearic Islands, as well as Ceuta and Melilla. The eastern half of the peninsula and the Balearic Islands will have to deal with it until at least Sunday. 

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Where do the mud rains fall? 

Hardly any rain is usually expected at this time of year. However, in the interior of the north, centre, and east of the country, evolution clouds can form, causing isolated showers and occasional thunderstorms in mountainous areas. 

The regions with the greatest chance of rain (although scarce and punctual) are the Pyrenees, the Cantabrian Mountains, and the Iberian Mountains. However, in the vicinity of these areas, the rain can fall with some mud. 

Satellite images 

Click here to view satellite images of the Sahara cloud via Copernicus ECMWF’s Twitter account. This eventually also reaches France, the southwest of England, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The Copernicus Climate Change Service combines observations of the climate system with the latest science to develop information about the past, present, and future states of the climate in Europe and worldwide. 

Effects of dust in suspension in the air on health 

We previously wrote about the possible health consequences of a large amount of dust suspended in the air. A recent study discovered the inflammatory mechanism of the upper airways that can be the prelude to angina pectoris or pulmonary fibrosis. 

The Sahara cloud contains tiny particles that turn the sky red, irritate the eyes and carry small traces of pollutants from Africa. Inhalation of this dust in suspension triggers an inflammatory reaction in the upper respiratory tract. Scientists believe this could be the first step toward the next development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. 

How can you protect yourself from the dust? 

Take precautions to avoid the effects of these potentially harmful particles on your body as much as possible. 

  • Wear a mask when you go outside. An FFP2 mask protects the best.
  • Do not go outside to exercise or take a walk. 
  • The population groups most vulnerable to this phenomenon (the elderly, pregnant women, children, or patients with chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma or COPD) should try to spend as little time outside as possible. 
  • Wash the eyes with plenty of water in case of irritation. 
  • Wear glasses.
  • Cover water sources, such as wells, to prevent contamination.
  • Close the windows of the house.
  • Drink a lot of water.

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