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What is a Sandstorm? – Tips on How to Make yourself Safe

Foggy skyscrapers because of the sandstorm
Dubai Sandstorm

What is a sandstorm? A sandstorm is a natural phenomenon caused by the strong pressure of wind – due to thunderstorms or cyclones – to the point that it can carry sand particles off the ground and blow it into the air which commonly happens in the Arabian Peninsula and other desert places. Sandstorms can usually rise upto 10 feet to 50 feet high above the ground. It’s very rare for it to rise up more than that. The factors that can contribute to the formation of sandstorms or dust storms are: tedious drying of the ground especially during the summer season, drought caused by unstable farming and lack of vegetation, high wind pressure induced by cyclones, and poor agricultural practices that can cause erosions like excessive cultivating of dry lands and insufficient crops.

Sandstorms in the UAE

Thick sand dust with matching heavy rain smashed parts of Dubai and Sharjah last Saturday, August 5. The internet community were shocked as they witnessed this natural phenomenon that looked like it came straight from a sci-fi movie. Videos of this horrifying event were posted online and went viral. Everyone was surprised – foreigners, especially, who are unaware that sandstoms can be this severe. Heavy sand grains that were blasted from the desert covered the vicinity of Dubai’s famous landmarks, causing reduced visibility among the motorists and respiratory health issues among the residents. This invoked the UAE authorities to issue weather alerts and traffic caution. Massive wreckage of cars and infrastructures were also seen on some streets of Sharjah and residents were advised to stay somewhere safe. In addition, heavy rain also occurred which intensified the formation of the dense dust.

In the United Arab Emirates, sandstorms are quite expected. It occurs during the dry season and in turbulent weather – most often during the transition of summer to winter season wherein high intensity wind is being generated. Based on analysis, sandstorms that take place in the UAE come from the dried-up Marshland of Kuwait and Iraq. Also in the recent study made by the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi, they found that the sand carried by the sandstorms contain tiny particles consisting of the air pollution that is believed to be damaging to the human body. It may contain viruses and bacterias that were merged with the air. As the harmful threats worsen, the UAE government has begun to broaden its program aiming for a higher air quality within the 7 kingdoms of Emirates, joining the World Health Organization’s Global Air Pollution and Health Technical Advisory Group for the immediate execution of this initiative.

Health Effects of Sandstorms

  1. Worsening of lung function towards people with existing lung disease, allergies, or asthma due to inhalation of dust particles. Dust pneumonia can also be acquired and developed.

  2. Silicosis or fibrosis of the lungs can be developed, caused by prolonged exposure to the sand particles. It can eventually become lung cancer if left untreated.

  3. Compromise and weaken the immune system, especially in elderly people and pregnant women, and increase the risk of developing infection from air-borne diseases like influenza and upper respiratory tract infection.

  4. Allergies related symptoms.

  5. Develops irritation of the nose, airways, and throat infection.

What is a Sandstorm? And What should You do?

  1. Do not panic. If a sandstorm happens while you are on the road, try to find an indoor place where you can stay safe around the area. Use sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the swirling dusts. Also, get a cloth, towel or a facemask to cover your nose and mouth to prevent you from inhaling sand particles.

  2. If you are driving, stop the car because sandstorms can decrease the visibility of the road to avoid any traffic accidents.

  3. People suffering from any lung disease including asthma should be aware that sandstorms can happen anytime particularly if you’re residing in a desert region. Always bring your first aid kit – inhaler, asthmatic kit, allergy medicine, etc.

  4. Stay inside your house as much as possible. Close all the windows, doors and any other openings and ventilations inside your house where air can pass through.

  5. Use an air purifier to improve the air quality inside your room as it reduces the risk of air-borne virus flowing into the air.

  6. Watch the news and be informed if it’s now safe to go out.

Children and mother crossing the street
People wearing face mask to prevent inhaling sand particles

Even with how astonishing they might look, sandstorms are a serious threat to your health and even to your life as accidents may arise during the event. Think about you and your family’s safety first before taking any photos or videos to post on social media. Be vigilant. Avoid going to the areas that are affected by the sandstorm. Be prepared and boost your immune system for your own wellness. Sandstorms are inevitable natural phenomena – which means it may come any moment. Hopefully what we’ve shared with you will help you get ready, and if you find yourself in a serious situation, contact the Dubai Emergency Hotline for their assistance. Stay safe!

Sandstorm Trivia:

Biggest dust storm in world history.
Black Sunday Dust Bowl

The biggest dust storm in the world and the deadliest with zero visibility – The Black Sunday Dust Storm (April 14, 1935), happened in Oklahoma, United States. It is the most destructive dust storm in American History and caused an immense amount of agricultural and economic damage.

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