What Is A Calima? – Sand?

Fuerteventura boasts a temperate climate all year long. However, at certain times of year we experience a natural phenomenon called a Calima. Where 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. This is known as a ‘Calima’, but what actually is it?

Worldwide Winds

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, and other global forces such as atmospheric circulation, climate zones and solar energy also come in to play. Certain areas of the earth’s surface often experience the same types of wind called ‘prevailing winds’ that are specific to that particular area and occur on a regular basis and so a local name is given to it. The ‘Calima’ is one such wind.

calima from space

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 and 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.

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’ the younger brother of the more common Saharan wind ‘the Sirocco’. This cloud can last anything from a few hours to a week, but the average is about two to three days, with temperatures rising and dust particles dropping from the sky and leaving a sandy layer over everything.

sand dunes

Is A Calima Dangerous?

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 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 worry about, as no sooner than the dust clears – so will your sinuses.

Allergies: The winds originate in the Saraha and are therefore blowing particles through the air from quite a way away, this means that small fragments dust which could contain anything from skin, hair, plant matter and alike, 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.

The No.1 Danger During a Calima – Sunburn

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 precautions.

Stay Safe In The Sun

Wear a good quality, in-date suntan lotion / sunscreen with a high SPF factor and pop on some sun glasses. Also, stay out of the direct sun during the hottest parts of the day and make sure you keep your head covered and your body well-hydrated at all times.

Calima & Airport Distruption

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

Here are some photos taken by The Voice Fuerteventura readers. These 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.

A Calima in Caleta, before and after by Stephen Doyle
Caleta in a Calima by Daren West

Strong Winds & Dust Clouds

So, in short. A calima is just a prevailing wind and nothing to worry about. It is something that comes and goes during the year and has helped to shape the beautiful landscape that Fuerteventura has to offer.

If you have any cool photos of yourself in a Calima in Fuerte, then please get in touch and if you have any comments or questions then please leave them below.

Enjoy & Don’t Forget The Sunscreen!

The Ed

I have lived in Fuerteventura since 2008 and am the Editor and owner of The Voice Fuerteventura Magazine and websites as well as the FuerteventuraCanaryIslands.com website. My aim is to help other people get the best out of the Island and to experience the true beauty and wonders that Fuerteventura has to offer.

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