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January 18, 2011

Harmattan Time

Harmattan Fog in Bolgatanga, Upper East Region, Ghana

We stepped out of the grocery and headed for the entrance of the mall. As we approached the outdoors, my daughter asked, “Mommy, is it raining?”

It was not raining, but her question was well-founded. The sky was shrouded in what looked like a sheet of steady rain.

“No, honey,” I replied, “it’s Saharan dust from the Harmattan.”

The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African trade wind. It blows south from Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March (winter). While it passes over the desert it picks up fine dust particles (between 0.5 and 10 micrometres) which it distributes over West Africa. Northern regions of Ghana are hit harder than the south where we live.

Talk about an ill wind! Similar to the ash fall that we experience periodically in St. Kitts when the Montserrat volcano decides to shake things up a bit, the Harmattan covers cars with grit and all surfaces must be dusted regularly to rid them of the North African sand.

During the day, conditions are dry and dusty, hard on the skin and particularly hazardous to those who suffer from asthma and any sort of inhalant allergies (read, most of my household). On the positive side, night time brings relief from the hot weather, causing some Ghanaians to pull out jackets as the temperatures fall into the low 60s.

It also makes for some beautiful sunrises and sunsets!

Harmattan Sunrise

Harmattan Sunset
Harmattan Sunset

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