Tuesday, 18 May 2010

What is a Shamal?

As I was sitting in my home office the other day looking for inspiration to write and I heard a howl and a furious rustling of leaves and looked out my window.  The dust was so thick I could barely see into the neighbors back yard and the trees were being viciously whipped around by a wind that must have been 4 Beaufort (for you sailors out there)...it was a Shamal!  Not nearly the fear-inducing wind and rain that comes with a hurricane (and I've sat through a few of those sitting on the bathroom floor, hugging my cat in Fort Lauderdale) but it's still quite unsettling. 

Living in the Middle East (Dubai to be exact), we rarely see any rain so the few drops that the Shamal brought were welcome, although not enough to settle the dust down, other than in your teeth and eyelashes.  Yes, it's that pervasive.  It's so fine that it gets into the smallest cracks and crevices so you spend the next week sweeping and mopping dust and sand from the weirdest places.

We are in the middle of a cosmopolitan city filled with the most architecturally brilliant high rises, including the Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world - but a vast, rolling desert is just a couple clicks away and when the wind kicks up, if it's blowing westward, we get "the Shamal." 

I had never heard of one before I moved here and you've got to experience it to believe it.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica a Shamal is a "hot and dry, dusty wind from the north or northwest in Iraq, Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula. In June and July it blows almost continuously, but usually under 50 km (about 30 miles) per hour."  O.K., maybe I exaggerated with the Beaufort 4, but it was kickin'! "The wind causes great dust storms, especially in July, when Baghdad may experience five or more such storms. The shamal is part of a widespread flow toward a low-pressure centre over Pakistan.

So, there you have it.  We may not have hurricanes anymore and we may have escaped the snow and cold when we moved to Florida from Canada many years ago...but now we have the Shamal.  Fortunately it doesn't devastate entire communities and you don't have to shovel it...just have a broom handy at all times.