SHARE
COPY LINK

WEATHER

Weather in Spain: What is ‘calima’ and is it bad for you?

If the sky in your part of Spain has turned yellow or orange, the visibility is poor and the air is stuffier, then it’s highly likely it’s calima. But what is this atmospheric phenomenon and is it bad for your health?

Weather in Spain: What is 'calima' and is it bad for you?
Cars drive on the TF-1 highway during a sandstorm in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on the Canary Island of Tenerife. (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN / AFP)

Much of Spain may enjoy clear blue skies for a large part of the year but there are places which sometimes look like a post-apocalyptic world where visibility is low and everything is dusty. This is known as calima.  

What is calima?

Calima is the Spanish word used to describe when there’s sand or dust in suspension in the atmosphere. The English translation is haze. 

There are two types of calima – type A calima refers to natural haze from sand, dust and other particles that come from the environment, whereas type B calima refers to the haze that comes as a result of pollution or ash from a forest fire for example. 

Even though some of Spain’s bigger cities do often suffer poor air quality as a result of pollution, the most striking episodes of calima come as a result of huge sand clouds from the Sahara blowing over to the Spanish territory, given Spain’s relative proximity with the 9.2 million square kilometre desert.

Visibility is poor, the sky turns either yellow, orange or red, the air is usually drier and more stifling, it gets harder to breathe and everything is covered in a layer of dust.

A hazy sunset in Gran Canaria. Photo: El Coleccionista de Instantes/Flickr

Calima episodes tend to last between three and five days.

When rainfall occurs during a period of calima, it leads to muddy rain, known as lluvia de barro in Spanish, as dust and sand particles are dragged down by the rain to the surface.

Calima is often confused with Sirocco, but they aren’t the same. Although they both come from the Sahara, Calima is usually more stifling, hot and contains dust, whereas Sirocco coming from the Sahara contains more moisture by the time it reaches southern Europe. 

Where is there most calima in Spain?

Given the Canary Islands’s proximity to northwestern Africa (Fuerteventura is only 100km from the Moroccan coastline), the Atlantic archipelago experiences by far the most common episodes of calima in Spain. 

Whenever there are sand storms in the Sahara or Sahel deserts and the trade winds blow south or east, the Canaries experience calima. This happens many times throughout the year, with varying degrees of severity.

A satellite image by Nasa shows how easy it is for the Canaries’ most easterly islands to be affected by sand blowing over from the Sahara.

However, during adverse meteorological conditions and periods of extreme wind, it’s not uncommon for parts of the Spanish mainland including Andalusia, Murcia and the Valencia region to also be affected by calima. 

During Storm Celia in March 2022, a huge cloud of suspended dust covered almost the entire Spanish mainland and the Balearic Islands and reached as far up as France, combining with a period of stormy weather to create mud rain. 

Is calima bad for people’s health?

During periods of extreme calima, parts of Spain experience some of the worst air quality in the world.

Particles that measure less than 10 microns enter our body through the respiratory tract and reach the lungs and the blood. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers that a concentration of suspended dust higher than 50 milligrams per cubic metre can be harmful to people’s health.

Although a high concentration of PM10 particles isn’t good in general, short periods of exposure won’t be harmful to most people, apart from maybe causing some difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, a dry throat and potentially a cough.

However, for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, asthma or allergies, calima can be problematic and cause problems such as bronchitis, chest pain or palpitations. 

These people should aim to spend as little time as possible outdoors during periods of calima, and it’s advisable for them to wear a face mask if they do have to go out.  

The general advice for everyone else is to close doors and windows (to keep their homes clean and prevent breathing the dust-filled air), avoid doing exercise outdoors, drink plenty of water and keep surfaces at home clean with a damp cloth.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LIFE IN SPAIN

What to do about insects and other pests in your home in Spain?

Bugs and insects can sometimes be a problem in Spanish homes, particularly during the summer months. Here's what to do if you get an infestation and how to prevent them from happening.

What to do about insects and other pests in your home in Spain?

Fruit flies buzzing around the bins, cockroaches in the kitchen and ants invading your food cupboards can be a common sight in your Spanish home, more often than not in summer.

But what can you do when insects invade your home? 

What types of pests are common in Spain?

Bugs and insects that commonly invade homes in Spain include fruit flies, ants, stink bugs, cockroaches, pantry moths, plaster bagworms and mosquitoes.

Those who have pets may also have a problem with your animals bringing fleas and ticks into the home too.

READ ALSO: Ticks are proliferating in Spain: How to avoid them and protect yourself

These can cause a nuisance, not only flying around your home and biting you (in the case of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks), but they can get into your food and lay eggs in your cupboards.

How can I get rid of bugs in my home?

One of the most important ways you can keep insects and other bugs out of your home is to eliminate food sources.

This means always doing the washing up as soon as you’ve finished eating so there are no scraps laying around, sweeping kitchens and dining rooms regularly and putting opened food items in the fridge instead of the cupboards.

You also need to make sure you regularly empty your rubbish bin and that there are no gaps between the lid and the bin that flies can get in through.

Dusting, hoovering and general regular cleaning will also keep other insects at bay such as plaster bagworms and moths that lay larvae on your walls and ceiling.

Those with pets should make sure that animals are treated with flea and tick protection and combed through with special flea combs to make sure bugs are not stuck in their fur.

Summer can of course be very hot in Spain, with temperatures regularly in the high 30°Cs or even low 40°Cs in some parts of Andalusia and other regions, meaning that windows and doors are often left open to ensure a breeze. Unfortunately, this means that your home is more accessible to insects too.

If you can, get a fly screen for your doors and windows, so you can leave them open, but no bugs can get in. These fine mesh screens can be bought from hardware or home stores such as Leroy Merlin and can simply be lifted into place when you need them.

If you can’t get screens installed, then consider planting certain plants on windowsills or balconies. Lavender, basil, lemongrass and mint are all natural insect repellents.

Electric fly swats, ant traps and sticky paper can also all help eliminate pests in your home. 

READ ALSO: What venomous species are there in Spain?

Insecticides

When the situation becomes worse, simple everyday cleaning won’t suffice and you may need to use insecticides to kill the infestation. There are many different brands in Spain. Both Protect Home and Compo have several different products you can use.

If you don’t want to use chemical insecticides, natural ones made from white vinegar, citrus plants, or peppermint oil can also work.

Pest control

If the situation becomes completely out of control and you find that insects are not only entering your home but that they are breeding there too, it’s time to call in the professionals. Pest control services are available across Spain.

The first step is to check your home insurance to see if they will cover this service. If they won’t, they may be able to suggest a company that can help.

Otherwise, a quick Google search for ‘Control de plagas’ (pest control) and then your area should provide you with plenty of options.

According to the home website Habitissimo, pest control services in Spain can range from €80 up to €2,000 depending on the type of infestation you have, how serious the problem is and how big your property is. On average it will cost you around €267.

SHOW COMMENTS