The red-orange dust clouds, known as ‘Calima’ in Spanish, that are covering much of the skies in Spain remain for the third day.
Caused by hot air from the Sahara Desert, the dust clouds that have spread across the Mediterranean Sea and coated most of Spain, have led to the Spanish authorities issuing ‘bad air quality’ warnings on Tuesday.
Many Spaniards and expats woke on Monday to find a layer of red-orange dust, covering their homes, terraces, streets and cars. Madrid, along with resort towns in the Southeast, are bearing the brunt of the dust storm, with visibility in Madrid and cities like Granada and Leon reduced to four kilometres (2.5 miles).
In the southeastern municipality of Málaga, the dust mixed with rain in the air before coming down.
A student studying at the University of Malaga said that “It was like it was raining mud. I was in the car this morning and mud was literally falling.“
Areas as far west as the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic are also feeling the impact and Spain’s weather services described the dust storm as being “extraordinary and very intense,” but declared that it is uncertain if it is the worst incident of its kind on record.
On Tuesday the orange dust storm drifted into neighbouring Portugal, and the weather services of Spain predict that it will continue to accumulate in both countries through Wednesday and could even spread as far north as northwestern Germany and the Netherlands.
Health experts have advised residents to stay inside but wear a face mask if it is essential that they go out. It has also been advised that physical activities and intense sport, both indoors and outside are avoided. This is especially important for those who suffer from allergies and respiratory problems who are particularly vulnerable to spikes in small-particle air pollution.
There have been reports across Spain, that a vast number of people have sought medical treatment due to experiencing breathing difficulties, and a teachers’ union in Almeria has expressed concern and asked the Andalusian government to close schools because the calima means that they have to keep all windows closed “despite the risks of Covid”.
This comes as Spain topped the leaderboard as the country with the ‘world’s worst air quality’ this week, ahead of China and India where smog is typically notoriously bad.
Spain's weather service said that “the mass of hot air from Africa, which was brought in by a storm, delivered some much-needed rain for drought-hit Spain, also pushed temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius in some areas."
Rubén del Campo, a spokesman from the weather service, said while it is not certain if this episode is due to climate change, the increase in size of the Sahara Desert over the past century has increased the potential for larger dust storms in Europe.
He also said that “the increasingly turbulent weather patterns linked to climate change could play a part.
“There are many concerns regarding the impact that climate change is having on the patterns of the frequency and intensity of the storms that favour the arrival of dust to our country,” Del Campo said.
Sand and dust storms occur annually when powerful, hot winds sweep across loose soils on arid land and although harmful to human health, they bring nutrient-laden minerals from the Sahara, the planet’s largest and hottest desert, to ocean life and vegetation.
While dust clouds will still differ from year to year, scientists predict that plumes will reach their smallest size in 20,000 years, this century.
This is due to climate-change driven ocean heating, because sea surface temperatures have a direct impact on wind speeds. If warming occurs in the northern Atlantic Ocean, trade winds will weaken and can carry less desert dust.
Image Credit: Ayuntamiento de Totana