For the third day in a row, the Middle East awoke Wednesday to the wind whipping and sand flying. And it’s only getting worse.
A massive dust belt is moving from the Sahara Desert all the way up to Turkey, according to NASA. The space agency said a cyclone that crossed Africa’s Atlas Mountains is to blame for the dust everywhere else.
It’s typical to see high concentrations of dust in the atmosphere near the point where the storm originated, according to NASA scientist Colin Seftor. But it’s “quite unusual” to see dust so far from the source.
And that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
The timing is also unusual. As meteorologist Peter Knippertz said, according to NASA, "Such intense dust storms over the Mediterranean are most common in spring, so this is clearly early for the season."
Here in Israel, the Environmental Protection Ministry reported the highest levels of air pollution in the last five years. High winds were expected to last all day -- but finally, rain was expected to bring relief later tonight.
For now, flights have been grounded at Eilat. Israeli airports spokeswoman Liza Dvir told The Associated Press flights to and from the Red Sea resort city were suspended because of the weather, though Ben Gurion Airport was still operating.
Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were enjoying a solid haze Wednesday afternoon.
Went to bed in Tel Aviv, woke up in Cairo. The shadows in the dusty background are supposed to be a skyline. pic.twitter.com/4VhwOQdPhJ— Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) February 11, 2015
Working in Tel-Aviv where I experienced my 1st sand storm. Incredible how sunshine turned into a blanket of dust. pic.twitter.com/XXHgS4XPhV— Emilia D'Anzica (@emiliadanzica) February 11, 2015
On Wednesday, Cairo bore the brunt of the storm, which cast a yellow tint over the entire city:
Segundo día de la tormenta de arena en El Cairo. Sandstorm in Cairo. Day 2. pic.twitter.com/M9OvzLOCT6— Sergi Cabeza (@SergiCabeza) February 11, 2015
Big sandstorm sweeping through Cairo. Dust sticks to skin, all colors fade to beige. pic.twitter.com/vdqrTm9AVg— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) February 11, 2015
It sounded downright unpleasant, judging from the reports of these journalists on the ground:
I can actually taste the dust.— Erin Cunningham (@erinmcunningham) February 11, 2015
Even Amman, Jordan, was getting in on the action.
Earlier this week, dust suffocated southwest Iran, shutting down schools, government offices and sparking a few protests. Mehr News Agency snapped pictures of people wearing masks and choking on the dust, and Iranians flocked to social media to share their photos using the hashtag #KhouzestanCantBreath and demand the government step up its response.