Irish holidaymakers face 'blood sky' phenomenon as Saharan dust cloud to hit Med beaches

Irish holidaymakers face 'blood sky' phenomenon as Saharan dust cloud to hit Med beaches

Surfers at the beach under the dust and sand from a red calima storm coming from the Sahara Desert.

Irish holidaymakers abroad may face the “blood sky” phenomenon as they take to the beaches of Spain and Portugal this week, with the latest Saharan dust cloud sweeping over the continent.

A significant aerial sand deposit from the Sahara Desert is set to reach Western Europe by the end of the week, the latest in “an extraordinary year for the dust cloud cycle”, according to the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring service.

At present, Ireland is not in the cloud’s sights, but south-east England is expected to be affected, as well as large swathes of France, Spain, and Portugal.

At its worst, Irish holidaymakers in affected areas can expect red skies, cars, and buildings, and caution about outdoor activities is advised due to affected air quality.

The European Commission-backed Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), part of the EU’s space programme, said it “observed another large plume of Saharan dust moving west across the Atlantic between May 12 and 17 and heading towards the Caribbean”.

It is now forecasting that “the plume will also reach western Europe on May 21 and 22”.

While it may not seem significant to the untrained eye, dust clouds can impact air quality, as well as contributing to climate change.

CAMS said: “Hazy skies, warm-coloured sunsets, dirty cars and poor air quality are some of the most visible signs of the dust transport episodes.” 

In recent years Europe and the Caribbean have experienced some remarkable Saharan dust events, sparking many questions about the influence of climate change in its frequency or intensity, and moreover about its effects on our health.

The latest sand plume is predicted to reach the Iberian Peninsula first, before scattering over the rest of the west, CAMS said.

Met Éireann explained the dust cloud phenomenon back in March when confused Irish motorists queried how their cars had become dirtier overnight.

Dust clouds depend on the wind, according to CAMS.

“In general, dust episodes tend to be seasonal, following the changes in wind conditions. 

"Wind patterns will also determine the size of particulate matter loft or the height at which the dust cloud will travel."

CAMS has documented the impact of dust clouds in recent years, showing just how seriously they must be taken by local and regional authorities.

“In February 2020, a massive dust cloud engulfed the Canary Islands prompting flight cancellations travel chaos for thousands of locals and tourists,” CAMS said.

In June 2020, a Saharan Dust Transport, nicknamed Godzilla, reached the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico with exceptional concentrations.

In February 2021 snow on the Alps turned orange, while March this year saw records in dust concentrations in southern Spain, with the plume making its way as far as Scandinavia.

The impact on human health depends on the type of dust that is transported, according to CAMS.

“It depends on the concentration and the altitude. High altitude dust transport is less likely to have a significant impact on air quality at the surface. 

"But important dust clouds at surface levels bring particulate matter, coarse and fine, worsening air quality and posing respiratory or even cardiovascular risks,” it said.

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