dust storm in fuerteventura

What is a Calima?

Fuerteventura boasts a temperate climate all year long. However, at certain times of year we experience a natural phenomenon called a Calima. This is a time when the clear blue skies disappear and the heavens are laden with what looks like a mass of dusty clouds, casting an almost ethereal glow across the sky. Locally this is known as a ‘Calima’, but what is a calima? And what can you expect?

Calima in The Canaries

Worldwide Winds

So when asking ‘What is a Calima?’ we need to look at the world and wind as a whole, before we can understand it at a local level. In short, wind occurs worldwide, in a range of different forms and is measured on a range of scales, usually determined by their strength, duration and direction. For example a ‘Gust’ is the term used to describe a short burst of strong wind, where a longer, yet still as powerful wind, is normally referred to as a ‘Squall’. Winds across the world vary by region, topography of the land and temperature, as well as other global forces such as climate zones, solar energy and atmospheric circulation. With so much at play it is hardly surprising that we have so many different names for wind and depending on where you are visiting will determine what kind of wind you can expect.

Prevailing Winds and Calimas

Certain areas of the earth’s surface often experience the same types of wind called ‘prevailing winds.’ These are winds which are specific to that particular area or region and occur on a regular basis, because of this a local name is given to it. The ‘Calima’ is one such wind.

A Calima and The Saharan Air Layer

The Calima is actually caused by a storm or change in weather that affects the Saharan Air Layer. This is a hot, dry and dust filled system which is situated above the Sahara desert as well as the more humid and colder system of the Atlantic Ocean. A storm in Africa can push the Saharan dust cloud right out to sea, in a southeasterly or easterly direction. Scientists have actually found particles of dust from the Sahara Desert as far west as Puerto Rico in the North Eastern Caribbean!

Las Dunas in Corralejo

How long Does A Calima Last?

The Canary Islands are directly in the path that this dust cloud will travel and what we experience is the ‘Calima’ which is the younger brother of the more commonly known Saharan wind called ‘the Sirocco’. This cloud can last anything from a few hours to a week or ten days, but the average is about two to three days. During this time resort temperatures rise and dust particles drop from the sky, leaving an ethereal glow in the air and a heavy sandy layer over everything.

Is A Calima Dangerous?

There are some side effects that you may experience during a calima. Below are some of the more common ones.

Nose: As during a calima, there is more dust and sand in the air than usual, some people can and will experience respiratory problems, such as a blocked or runny nose.

Eyes: The dust that a calima carries can also make your eyes a bit itchy, so try not to rub them or this can irritate them even more. Also, as the temperatures soar during a Calima, you may experience more sweat than usual on your forehead, which if allowed to drip into the eyes, can also cause some discomfort. A simple headband or similar will soon sort that problem, as will keeping hair brushed back and away from the eye area.

Blocked Sinuses: Some people will feel a little ‘bunged up’ during a Calima. It can make you feel like you have a mild cold, especially if your nose becomes blocked, your eyes are a bit itchy and your body temperature rises, but this is nothing to really worry about, as no sooner than the dust clears – so will your sinuses.

Allergies: The winds originate in the Saraha and are therefore blowing foreign particles through the air from quite a way away, this means that small fragments of dust, which could contain anything from skin, hair, plant matter and waste, can get swept up in the gusts. In some cases, these particles can cause allergic reactions, so if you are particularly susceptible to dust or pollen allergies, you may feel a little like you have hay fever or similar. However, don’t worry, as the pharmacies on the island stock all kinds of remedies and over the counter medications which can help bring down the allergic reaction.

Looking Up To The Sky

Even though the sky looks like an orange-coloured, pea soup and it feels cloudy and overcast – the single most common complaint during a Calima is sunburn. Even though you cannot see them, UV rays are shooting down from the sky and heading directly to your skin and eyes, even during a calima. It is so easy to think you are protected by the clouds and that because the sun is not shining as brightly as usual that the likelihood of you getting burnt is minimal. Wrong! I have witnessed even the darkest of skin tones burn during a calima. I myself have also been caught out during a calima and I am used to working and living in the Fuerteventura sunshine all year long! So, as a Brit abroad or someone that has popped over for a week or two and is usually covered in clothes – beware! The sun is seriously strong and the wind will lull you into a false sense of security, making you think that it is actually much cooler than it is. And this is where people become complacent and forget the suntan lotion and sun screens. So please heed the advice and during a calima, take the usual sun care precautions.

Stay Safe In The Sun

There is so much information around regarding sunscreens and so many shops in the resorts that sell it, that you should easily be able to find a product that is perfect for you. During a calima make sure that you wear a good quality, in-date suntan lotion or sunscreen with a high SPF factor and pop on some sun glasses too. Also, stay out of the direct sun during the hottest parts of the day (12 – 4pm) and make sure you keep your head covered and your body well-hydrated at all times.

Calima & Airport Disruption

Usually a calima looks worse than it is, and other than a thicker layer of dust appearing on flat surfaces, it doesn’t really cause any problems where mechanics are concerned. Your cars will still run as normal ( although you may need to wipe the excess sand from the windscreen ) and everything else will just look a bit dustier, such as swimming pools. But, on the whole everything will still work as it should, including trains, planes and automobiles. Disruption to airline schedules due to a calima are really rare and in recent history, Fuerteventura airport has run as usual through calima after calima, without any disruption to the services. However, this has not always been the case. The worst reported case of a calima causing disruption in the Canaries was back in 2002 when the Airport in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, had to close temporarily due to the visibility dropping to less than 50 metres which made it dangerous or planes to land and take off. But hey – It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Readers Photos Of A Calima in Fuerteventura

There are lot of photos taken by The Voice Fuerteventura’s readers available to view in our gallery. These will show what a Calima looks like on the ground, so you can get an idea of what it is like to be in the middle of one. Below is a great pic that was sent in to us by Stephen Doyle ( Thank You! ). It shows one of the Golf `courses in Caleta De Fuste and will really give you an idea of what you can expect.

Golf Course on a typical day

This is the same golf course during a Calima

If you have experienced a calima for yourself and want to share your stories or photos, then please leave us some details in the comments below.

Saludos

The Ed

6 thoughts on “What is a Calima?

  1. Wow! What an interesting article. When I first started reading it I thought it was a shirt story from a Science fiction magazine, Fuerteventura sounds so futuristic band off this planet. The Calima you talk about sounds so much like our Australian dust storms. I lived in our outback for a number of years and experienced many of these. Before moving out there I never had suffered from an allergy, nowadays the slightest bit of dust sends me off. The dust storms we suffer here are so large that they create their own weather systems, its not unusual to experience lightning in them. 

    Apart from the Calima, your Canary islands sound like an interesting place to visit, I’d love to go there one day. Jim

    1. G’day Jim! To be honest to some people that land on the island for the first time it looks like something from a futuristic movie. It was actually the backdrop for a recent Starwars movie, as well as Wonder Woman and many others. The calimas here are not that bad.. just very hot and humid.. something Im sure you are well used to in the outback. Thanks for your comments and maybe we will see you in Fuerteventura one day. The Ed 

  2. Wow! An eye opening article. The word Calima is really new to me. To my understanding desert dust is called desert sand storms. I am surprise to know that the sand particles from Sahara desert can be trace till Puerto Rico. Now, my concern, the climate changes more lands into desserts. My wish world leaders and big business take full action Now to prevent further deterioration of our beautiful planet.

    Thank you for the insights.

    Nazmi

    Singapore.

    1. Thanks for your comments Nazmi. Yeah, I have to agree with you regarding the desserts however, in the Canary Islands they take extra care to ensure their coastlines and natural areas are heavily protected and regularly monitored. There are many UNESCO sites as well as protected conservation areas, including a nice turtle Sanctuary on the south of the island and multiple Natural Parks. They also make all their electricity from wind power… so green is definitely the way to go. 

  3. This has been an interesting read. Wao, I was impressed seeing the pictures of the golf course. How orange it looks during a Calima. I have been to the Canary Islands several times. But so far, I have never experienced a calima. I think I haven’t stayed long enough. I also was concerned it had some negative effect on cars. But you explained it doesn’t. Thank you for telling us it can cause us really bad sunburnt. I will be careful with my skin.

    1. Thanks for your comments Ann. yes, sunburn is the biggest problem as it just seems overcast and a bit cloudy when in reality it is scorching hot. For me the main issue with a calima is the dust. It literally gets everywhere! 

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