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When Sandstorms Attack

February 19th, 2012 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Dubai, The National, UAE


I hate sandstorms. It might be the biggest drawback to living in the UAE. Even worse than the six months of brutal heat.

I am in my third winter in Abu Dhabi, and I was duly impressed by my first sandstorm experience, back in 2010.

Winter is sandstorm season.  Sounds counter-intuitive, but we get wind this time of year without getting rain, and wind just starts carrying grit everywhere.

Especially wind from the south and east, coming off the vast Empty Quarter, one monstrous sand box about the size of France.

If you saw the most recent “Mission Impossible” movie, which has several scenes in Dubai, you got an idea of what a UAE sandstorm is like, although the reality isn’t quite that dire. I have yet to see some huge dark cloud on the horizon, and then a deluge of dirt. Instead, the day darkens a little, and you notice the wind before you notice the dirt.

The biggest problem for me, and sandstorms?

Turns out I am allergic to them. Or, to be more precise, they trigger significant asthma episodes. Breathing in all that dirt.

Stories carried in The National (photo, above, courtesy Dubai Municipality) over the weekend noted that persons prone to asthma should stay indoors, and also reported a surge in the number of people turning up in emergency rooms with breathing problems.

I have learned, over decades, that some problems become worse with repeated exposure. For example, when your nerves are shot, they don’t come back stronger. The next stress is even more difficult to handle. (Hence, post-traumatic stress syndrome.)

Likewise, you don’t become inured to inhaling dirt. You become more sensitive to it, I am convinced, and eventually it begins to compromise your lung function. (It could drive me from this country.)

Lots of people were out exercising on Friday and Saturday, including hundreds of runners in a half-marathon in Ras Al Khaimah and a charity walk in Abu Dhabi. Had to be a really bad idea to be out there sucking in lungfuls of this quasi-air.

Sandstorms are dangerous in other ways, too, including one not immediately obvious.


The ceramic floor in this apartment is covered by a fine layer of dust. It works almost as a lubricant. As you walk over it, you can feel your feet (or shoes or sandals) slipping. I’m sure people are more inclined to falls, this time of year, as their feet fly out from under them.

Sandstorms are a significant problem on the nation’s roads. Sand is worse than than water because it rains here maybe twice a year, and the water runs off quickly — and sandstorms are problems maybe 20-25 days a year.

The National did a story today about the huge cleanup of the nation’s roads that goes on during and after a sandstorm.

The man who heads up Dubai’s “cleaning section” said: “We cannot leave sand on the highway or accidents will happen. It is a danger zone. During a sandstorm people cannot control the car. It skids and slips because people cannot tell how deep the sand is.”

The storm is supposed to break on Tuesday, which would be nice. Getting back to breathing, and all.


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