Expert warns: wait for a while before cleaning the Sahara sand

by Lorraine Williamson
wait before cleaning as the calima could return

PROVINCIA DE GRANADA – Wait a little longer before painting your facades white or thoroughly cleaning your terrace or swimming pool: new Calimas can be expected until the summer. So says Jesús Parraga, professor at the University of Granada (UGR). 

We saw it three times in March: twice intense and once a little lighter: the combination of masses of air filled with dust and sand from the desert, carried to Spain by storms in the higher air. There they came into contact with depressions and showers so it did not just rain, but mud water descended on the land. 

Mud rain that coloured the once gleaming white facades of the famous white villages brown, transformed the water in swimming pools from azure blue to the colour of chocolate milk and gave all cars in the open the same colour of dirt. Another effect of Calima was a bright orange coloured sky and the most surreal photos passed by on social media. 

Mud is difficult to get off facades 

It is not unusual for the desert dust to descend on Andalucia. What is exceptional is that it happened in such large quantities. As a result, many people concluded with regret that they had to whiten their facades again. A few already did that after the first Calima. And saw their investment in paint evaporate in a matter of hours. Companies that specialise in cleaning facades are working overtime and are still barely able to meet the demand. 

Better wait two to three months 

Parraga, director of the Edafology and Agricultural Chemistry department, warns in the newspaper IDEAL to wait two to three months before investing in major cleaning or painting work. He expects new sand rain for the summer. “I advise people against painting their facades before the summer because dust continues to come from the Sahara. This, combined with a possible Atlantic depression in the Gulf of Cádiz, will give us mud rains again.” 

The intensity of recent Calimas is ‘exceptional’ 

According to Parraga, it is common for dust from the Sahara to enter Andalucia from March onwards. He admits that the intensity of the past episodes with mud showers has been ‘very exceptional’. “Tons of desert sand slid over our heads. I measured the concentration of dust and came to 465 micrograms per square metre, which is very unusual.” It’s not just an unusual amount. It’s also unhealthy. The World Health Organisation calls the air quality poor at an amount of 50 micrograms per square metre of air. 

Parraga goes on to explain that according to a study by the Complutense University of Madrid published in 2021, there have been as many as 400 episodes of desert dust in the skies over Spain from 2000 to now. Each episode meant 3 to 4 days of Calima. That equates to about 150 days in which there is Saharan dust in the air. 

Calima occurs more often in the summer 

The newspaper El Mundo writes that according to a recent study, dust in suspension was recorded in the southeast of the peninsula between 2004 and 2009; 18% of the days inland; and 10% in the northwest of the peninsula. These were less intense episodes, though, and they didn’t go that far. In addition, Calima occurs more often in the summer, whereas this phenomenon took place at the end of the winter. 

Why do we see more and more desert dust in the air? 

“From 2000 to 2010, the average was 20 episodes per year. Since then, that number has increased to 20.” According to Parraga, the cause of this increase can be explained by the advance of the deserts, the drought, deforestation, and the rise in temperatures causes that he calls ‘very worrying’. 

Also read: What are the possible health consequences of a Calima episode? 

Relationship with climate change? 

Ruben del Campo, the spokesman for the Spanish weather institute Aemet, says in the newspaper El Mundo that he does not see a clear relationship between the episodes of desert sand and climate change. He does admit that in the past 100 years, the source surface of the dust – that is, the Sahara desert – has grown by about 10%. More arid areas are a greater source of dust particles. And with climate change, with rising temperatures, drought is increasing,” he reasons. 

Also read: The positive side of the Sahara sandstorm for Spain 

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