The calima will continue to dye the skies of much of Spain ocher this Wednesday due to the important blanket of desert dust that the storm transports Celia, formed on Sunday to the southwest of the Peninsula and that on Monday already left Martian landscapes on the southeast coast. This episode of Saharan dust, which the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) describes as “extraordinary” due to its intensity, extension and duration, will reach its maximum this Wednesday on the Peninsula, will ascend the continent, although in much lower concentrations, up to northern Germany, and will begin to dissipate on Thursday. This Wednesday, the rains of mud or of blood, Specially in the Valencian Community, Murcia, southeast Castilla-La Mancha and eastern Andalusia. In the rest of the country, dry deposition of dust will continue, that is, it will plummet from the air onto surfaces. In the next few hours, the worst will be in the southeast, the central area, the west of the peninsula, points in the Bay of Biscay and the Balearic Islands, warns Rubén del Campo, spokesman for Aemet.

Although social networks act as a sounding board when it comes to magnifying the unusualness of the episode, in the opinion of Carlos Perez Garcia-Pandoteam leader Atmospheric Composition of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and one of the greatest specialists in Spain in sand storms, it is not “unprecedented”, possibly not exceptional either, although it does “present very high concentrations of dust”, which he calls “brutal”.

In any case, this doctor in environmental engineering emphasizes that the episode is happening, so we have to wait until it ends to analyze it in depth and with real data. for now, the Barcelona Dust Forecast Center ―the World Meteorological Organization center for the study of dust intrusions and their concentration in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe― handles data from 12 prediction models, which consider different probabilities and estimates.

According to Pérez García-Pando, dust incursions similar to the current one occur “once or twice a year in Spain”. For example, he cites a powerful entry from February last year, which reached the Alps and left concentrations of PM10 particles – very fine, less than 10 microns in diameter – of 1,000 to 2,000 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). . In this case, figures around 500 µg/m3 are expected, although there are models that speak of up to 2,000. “From the peak, it will drop to between 50 to 200 µg/m3”, points out the researcher, who recalls that, in the European Union, the daily PM10 risk limit is 50 µg/m3. The OMS lowered it last September to 45.

On Tuesday, the Méndez Álvaro station, south of Madrid, registered an extraordinary 380.58 µg/m3 of PM10. The figures were somewhat lower in Valladolid (209.39), León (214.43), the Ourense municipality of Laza (179.77) and the Cantabrian town of Reinosa (179.33). The highest amount was measured in the Murcian municipality of Lorca (624.88), 14 times more than what the WHO recommends. This Wednesday, Salamanca exceeds this limit 16 times. The air quality has been between unfavorable and extraordinarily unfavorable for two days in a good part of the Peninsula, especially in the southeast, center and northwest. Spain, as highlighted by the Meteorology Hobbyist’s Magazineoccupies the first place of “most polluted country” on Earth according to the World Air Quality Index, surpassing China and India.

“This is the same case as last year, a depression – the deep storm Celia― that seeps into lower latitudes, that comes with rain and carries very strong winds. These winds very quickly transport the dust from the emission areas, in this case mainly Algeria, to Europe”, explains the researcher. “This is a very typical spring episode associated with red rains, which has occurred since time immemorial,” he says.

The tongue of haze, which contains quartz, oxides, carbonates, steel, titanium and vanadium, “began to enter on Monday from the southeast of the peninsula and between this Tuesday and Wednesday the maximum concentration will occur. On Tuesday it fully entered the Peninsula and reached France”, describes the expert. On Tuesday “it mainly affected the center of the Peninsula and reached Galicia”, he adds, to explain that “normally, the north is more protected against this phenomenon”.

This Wednesday, “it will affect the Mediterranean area above all, although it will also enter the Peninsula, and most models suggest that it will start to clear up and improve as of Thursday,” Pérez García-Pando advances, to warn, however, of the uncertainty that accompanies every deep storm. “If it intensifies, another jet of dust could come in.” In this case, unlike the precedent of February 2021, “it will not affect Europe as much, although France arrives, above all, and it also reaches the south of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the north of Germany, but with lower concentrations.”

Simulation of the episode for the concentration on the surface of the dust in suspension.The Barcelona Dust Forecast Center

The AEMET spokesman details that Celia It moves this Wednesday towards the south of the Peninsula and will weaken. However, from its new position it sends heavy or persistent rains to the Mediterranean coast, especially the south of the Valencian Community, Murcia, southeast Castilla-La Mancha and eastern Andalusia. It can also rain, although more weakly, in the center of the Valencian Community, the south of Catalonia, the Ebro valley and the center of the peninsula. Much of this precipitation will continue to be muddy, something that is no longer expected on Thursday.

Does climate change influence these episodes? “It’s not very clear. We have not finished observing a clear trend”, says Del Campo, who points out, however, that in the last 100 years the Sahara desert has increased its surface by 10% due to global warming, which represents a greater source of particles. Also “there are many uncertainties” about the effects that climate change may be causing in the patterns of frequency and intensity of storms, which are what favor the arrival of dust. For Pérez García-Pando, there is also no type of robust scientific evidence. “We can’t rule out a trend, but it’s early days,” he says. The Barcelona Dust Forecast Center It has been operating since 2010 and 30-year data series are needed.

The seriousness of the matter is its effects on health, of which the Spanish authorities have warned late and wrongly, according to the experts consulted, when since last Thursday the Aemet already pointed out the arrival of haze. This agency announced in May 2021 in EL PAÍS the start-up for that same spring of its first notice aimed at impacts on health, which was going to be precisely about the haze and that it would have four levels. However, he has not developed it. The warning is still very limited: it is limited to the Canary Islands, it only has the minimum level and it does not take into account the deterioration in air quality, but rather it is aimed at traffic and aeronautics, since it is activated when visibility is reduced to less than three kilometers. In Almería at ten o’clock on Tuesday morning there was barely 1.2 kilometers of visibility.

“What is clear is that when there is dust intrusion, PM10 is triggered. In Madrid, for example, the average is 38 µg/m3 with dust in suspension and, without it, it drops to 26. In the southeast, it drops from 46 to 32″, explains the epidemiologist Julio Díaz, which co-directs the Reference Unit on Climate Change, Health and the Urban Environment of the Carlos III Health Institute. His team studied how the risk of mortality increases when suspended dust is added to PM10 from traffic from 2004 to 2009. “In Seville, for example, when there is dust entering, for Every 10 µg/m3 of more than PM10 increases by 0.9%, while when there is none it is 0.7%. In A Coruña, there is no association between PM10 and mortality when there is no dust in suspension, but when there is dust for every 10 µg/m3 more, the risk increases by 5%”, explains Díaz.

The researcher also cites other studies, “unfortunately few”, which point to a worsening of respiratory and cardiovascular problems and an increase in prematurity and low birth weight. “In Barcelona, ​​a 2011 study determined that four weeks after the arrival of the dust, cases of meningitis increase,” he adds. “PM10 cause oxidative stress, proinflammatory effects, prothrombotic effects and gestational hypertension,” warns the epidemiologist, for whom “it is necessary to take preventive measures to minimize the impact” of the haze, especially reducing road traffic, the main “anthropogenic source of PM10″. In addition, he calls for “prevention plans in public health and epidemiological surveillance”, which integrate the factors that occur hand in hand with the haze, such as pollution, heat waves, droughts and fires.

The haze multiplies emergency consultations in Almería

View of Madrid this Tuesday from the Calero bridge.
View of Madrid this Tuesday from the Calero bridge. VICTOR SANZ

The haze that covers Almería caused this Tuesday an “exponential increase” in emergency consultations at the Torrecárdenas hospital. Most of the patients, reports a spokesman for the center, are young asthmatics who have arrived with symptoms of suffocation and a lot of cough. People who had gone out to exercise outdoors have also attended. For his part, the mayor of the city, Ramón Fernández-Pacheco, issued advice to the neighbors through his Twitter account.

Precisely avoiding outdoor activity and wearing a mask are the advice offered on Tuesday by Alberto Caballero Vázquez, a pulmonologist at the Virgen de las Nieves University Hospital in Granada, who explained that dust particles from the Sahara can cause worsening of respiratory pathology. such as chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchial asthma, and give rise to pictures of bronchial hyperreactivity that cause symptoms such as wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath. Sources from this hospital assure that there has been no increase in admissions due to these problems because, among other reasons, it is still early, and due to the use of masks.

In Madrid, Samur-Civil Protection recommended on Tuesday, in addition to all of the above, to hydrate and close windows. The City Council of the capital activated a special cleaning device for sidewalks and urban furniture, with 385 water services, while the mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, assured that “it does not generate a risk to people’s health” and recommended having “a lot” of caution when driving due to the lack of visibility and when doing physical activities outdoors. The mayor of Burgos, Daniel de la Rosa, issued a proclamation asking neighbors to avoid leaving the house.

With information from Eva Saiz, Javier Arroyo and Victoria Torres.


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