A massive dust storm swirling over Europe from the Sahara desert made it hard to breathe across much of Spain for the second day in a row on Wednesday and forced cleaning crews to work harder as far afield as Paris, London and Belgrade to remove the film of dirt that falls on cars and buildings.
Europeans woke up to eerie skies, from the grimy gray of Madrid to the orange hues of the Swiss Alps, caused by tiny particles that had traveled thousands of miles across the Mediterranean Sea.
The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said it was tracking the large mass of dust that has “degraded air quality in much of Spain, Portugal and France”.
While Spain is bearing the brunt of the storm, the dust was dumped far beyond, casting ocher stains on cars in drizzly Paris and spreading fine dust over a large swath of the continent.
Experts, including Spain’s national weather service, described the event as “extraordinary” for the amount of dust in the air, but noted that it had not broken any records.
“This is an intense event, but this type of event usually happens once or twice a year, usually in February or March, when a low pressure system over Algeria and Tunisia gathers dust and carries it to northern Europe. The dust may reach the UK, or even Iceland, as it did last year.”Carlos Pérez García, a researcher who studies atmospheric dust at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, told The Associated Press.
The area of Spain qualified by its national index of quality of the air as “extremely unfavorable”, its worst rating, has expanded since the start of the European event on Tuesday to include most of the southern and central regions of the nation, including Madrid and other major cities such as Seville. .
Authorities recommended that people wear face masks, still in widespread use due to the pandemic, and avoid exercising outdoors, especially for those suffering from respiratory illnesses. Madrid emergency services told the AP that so far there has been no increase in calls for people with respiratory problems.
Visibility was reduced for much of Spain. Municipal cleaners swept dust from city streets. In southern Spain, dust mixed with rain to produce mud.
Curious photos and videos of the powder surfaced on social media, including snowboarders cutting beautiful white lines through red-tinted snow in the Pyrenees mountains.
Rubén del Campo, a spokesman for Spain’s weather service, said the greatest amount of dust in the air will accumulate on Wednesday afternoon in the southeastern and central regions of Spain.
“Then the air will start to clear little by little, although some floating dust will reach the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean) during the weekend,” Del Campo said.
To the relief of farmers, the storm front that brought in the African dust is also forecast to bring more rain in the coming days to Spain’s dry fields and downstream reservoirs.
In Switzerland, skiers traversed orange-tinged snow on the alpine slopes of the Pizol resort near little Liechtenstein, while reddish-hued skies hung over places like Payerne airbase near Lake Neuchatel.
The national weather service, MeteoSwiss, said aerosols regularly kick up dust from the Sahara and the one that started on Tuesday is the third recorded this year and the most dramatic. The sky light turned yellowish-orange in Geneva, as meteorologists predicted that the skies would remain colored for several days.
The Serbian capital woke up this Wednesday covered by a thick layer of yellow dust that covered sidewalks and parks after light rain fell overnight.
Belgrade, already one of the most polluted capitals in Europe due to Serbia’s coal-fired power plants and factories, has recorded “dangerous” air quality, according to AirVisual. Environmentalists said it is the result of the dust cloud, but also due to Serbia’s perennial pollution problems.
The cloud of dust reached as far as London and south-east England on Wednesday, with some of the dust settling on people’s windows and car windscreens as rain carried particles to ground level.
“It’s almost as strong as the dust from the Sahara that crosses into the UK,” said meteorologist Alex Burkill at the Met Office. “The rain has washed the dust from high in the atmosphere and brought it to the surface, so people see it in their windows.”
He added that most people won’t see any health impacts, but some may experience eye irritation or a sore throat.
(with information from AP)
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