By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
Kuwait City–Sandstorms are an unfortunate part of life in the Middle East. They are fierce forces of nature that blow in when you least expect it and coat everything you hold dear in a fine layer of reddish sand. The sandstorms that rise up in the Midwest of the United States are nothing like the ones in the Middle East. The main difference is in the quality of the sand. In the U.S., the sand is made up of tiny granules of rocks whereas in the Mideast the sand can be likened to talcum powder. All it takes are a few heavy gusts of wind to send the fine sand straight up into the sky where it gets trapped in the upper atmosphere giving the sky both a bloody red and foggy appearance. Another difference is in the smell. The sand in the Middle East smells almost identical to chalk dust and attempting to take a deep breathe during a sandstorm will leave you gasping for air while the sand in the U.S. has no real notable scent.
The sandstorms in the Middle East are inescapable. They bring in heavy winds that make one think perhaps a tornado is rolling into town and dump loads of sand everywhere. Even if you seal the windows and doors in your home the sand still manages to creep in through whatever tiny cracks and crevices it can find. It is quite common, after a sandstorm, to find sand in the most unexpected places like inside the tissue box or even inside the screen of your cell phone! Americans typically have to shovel their way out after a snowstorm while residents of the GCC have to sweep themselves out of a thick blanket of sand after a sandstorm. Car washing facilities typically see a surge in customers wanting their cars scrubbed and waxed back to the perfect shine as soon as the sand settles. So, there are small minorities who actually do benefit from the raging sandstorms!
The worst crime the sandstorms commit are against the human body. Of course, the young and elderly are the most vulnerable to a slew of sandstorm related illnesses like upper respiratory infections, nasal irritation, and chest pains accompanied by a dry cough. Polyclinics and hospitals are full to the rafters during and after a sandstorm with many patients being hooked up to Oxygen machines so that they can catch their breath. People traveling by foot or public transport usually wear surgical masks or wrap scarves around their faces to shield themselves from the unwelcome gusts of wind and sand in a futile bid to ward off illness.
This winter the Middle East has seen a lot less rain and a lot more sand thanks to the â€˜Shamal Windsâ€™, which are strong northwesterly winds that are typically found in the spring and summer months. This past Tuesday, a fierce sandstorm whipped itself into a frenzy in Iraq and quickly passed through Kuwait and it is now expected to strike Dubai. The winds of the sandstorm were calculated to be between 35-40 knots as it passed through the Gulf with some areas on the seaside having seen winds swirling above 50 knots. There have even been reports of trees and desert shrubs being uprooted as a result of the heavy winds.
Visibility during a sandstorm can reach all the way to zero with governments warning motorists against driving on the roads during the peak of a storm. Similarly, boats are warned not to go out on the ocean, as the seas are understandably rough and dangerous for maritime activities. Further, in the winter at least, residents in the Gulf are told to continue wearing warm winter clothes as the sandstorms cause the temperatures to plummet and send a chill into the air.