El Calima

During the first couple of days of our holiday in San Sebastian de La Gomera visibility was very poor as you can see from these two images (one in colour and ‘antique’ monochrome). You may think this to be mist, low cloud or even rain, but it is in fact a sandstorm called the Calima.

The Calima is a hot, oppressing dust and sand-laden, southerly to southeasterly, sometimes easterly wind in the Canary Islands region. It is particularly prevalent in winter. Like it’s ‘big brother’ the Sirocco, the Calima blows out of a high-pressure over Northern Africa and the Sahara and is normally drawn northwards ahead of a passing cold-front or depression north of the archipelago. It’s fine yellowish-brown dust is even creeping through doors and windows. Outside visibility often reduces to null.

Sometimes a rare small depression forming south-west of the Canary Islands increase wind-speed and intensity of a Calima event. Such storms and the rising warm and humid air can lift dust 5,000 m or so above the Atlantic blanketing hundreds of thousands of square miles of the eastern Atlantic Ocean with a dense cloud of Saharan sand, many times reaching as far as the Caribbean.

This abnormal hot and humid Calima is often associated with fog and patchy drizzle and the Canary people are heavily suffering from respiratory problems. Conditions could become even so bad that they might force public life and transport to a stand-still. On January 8, 2002, the international airport of Santa Cruz had to be closed because visibility dropped to less than 50 meters.

View of El Cumbre through El Calima from San Sebastian (Monochrome).