Recent Canary Islands dust storm versus climate

By Peter Kuchar

Recently on 23rd of February I was witness of really amazing event, strongest dust storm in recent history of Canary Islands. Most of you probably know, but those wonderful islands are located 100 to 400 kilometers west from Africa coast of West Sahara. Dust is not unknown there, in facts those volcanic islands thanks to Sahara sand for their awesome beaches.

But this one was unprecedented. Sun disappeared, everything covered in martian orange hue, wind howling up to 150km/h. Concerned sights of airplanes making their final approach in ~500m visibility in sand and wind over 100km/h. Luckily all of them made it till final closure of airport.

Here are few examples how it looked:




Try to find airplane on this one…


Color of images corresponds with reality and please have on mind this was midday with subtropical sun high on sky.

And what exactly happened? Apparently there is exceptional situation with Jet Stream. It is not unseen to split into two, but usually one of those two is just short lived an weak. This time it was quite different. Both legs were strong. One coming through central US, passing Newfoundland, United Kingdom and central Europe. Second one coming from Caribbean through West Sahara and Mauritania to Algeria, Libya and Egypt. I’m looking on Jet Stream behavior for few years and this is unusually low south.

Those two high speed streams of air are creating situation for circular convection in between them.

Let’s look on situation on 23rd of February:


There is cyclone with center north of Canary Islands. Lifting sand in West Sahara and Mauritania and distributing it counterclockwise above Atlantic Ocean.

And this is like it was looking from satellite:


This is about time when it was worst on Canary Islands, but this cyclone is still going on.

Two days later situation looks like this:


Dust cloud covers substantial part of globe area and should definitely have impact on global temperature.

It is proven that during Ice Ages dust level in atmosphere is very high. The higher dust content the colder.

This event was exceptional, but if for some reasons this becomes periodical it can have serious impact on climate, I dare to say it can trigger descent to Ice Age.

All this is caused by position of Jet Streams and those are defined by position of Hadley, Ferrel and Polar cells.

Exact position of them has many variables like atmosphere pressure, speed of Earth rotation and probably Sun/Earth magnetic field.

If for some reasons Jet Stream will be located in such configuration, that dessert parts of globe will be close to its path,it will cause dust events on periodical and probably permanent basis rapidly changing Earth climate.

Peter Kuchar

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February 27, 2020 6:30 pm

So you say that CAGW might bite the dust? Or are you just saying that CAGW just bites in general?

Reply to  shrnfr
February 28, 2020 7:27 am

Groan. First comment and you win already. LOL.

February 27, 2020 6:34 pm

Thank you for this rational extreme weather report that is just the kind of thing now being used to sell climate action against a climate emergency with the emergency being too important to fret about the details.

John Galt
Reply to  chaamjamal
February 28, 2020 4:08 am

I’ve been to the Canary Islands but the beach sand was black and volcanic in origin at least on Tenerife.

Reply to  John Galt
February 28, 2020 12:43 pm

It is combination of black volcanic rock and yellow, probably Saharan sand.
comment image

February 27, 2020 6:50 pm

These events fertilise the ocean and stimulate phytoplankton production…, and then beasties that eat phytoplankton and then beasties that eat the beasties…etc

Julian Flood
Reply to  GregK
February 28, 2020 1:41 am

If the dust raises the dissolved silica levels then the spring bloom will see calcareous phytoplankton outcompeted by diatoms, silica-shelled rivals that dominate if they are given the chance. Diatoms do not produce di-methyl sulphide, the precursors of sulphate aerosols which aid the formation of stratocumulus clouds.

Less cloud, more warming.

There’s an article here somewhere about the growth of deltas as human activity increases erosion. If that is increasing dissolved silica… fill in the dots.


February 27, 2020 6:54 pm

Does dust from the Sahara contain iron in a form that can promote phytoplankton growth from the Ocean Iron Fertilization Effect?

Reply to  RMoore
February 28, 2020 9:31 am

..and made the Amazon and Caribbean rain forests possible

Joel O'Bryan
February 27, 2020 7:04 pm

” that dessert parts of globe will be close to its path..”

I for one never take a pass on desserts.

Tom Abbott
February 27, 2020 7:07 pm

From the article: “But this one was unprecedented.”

I’m skeptical.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Tom Abbott
February 27, 2020 9:44 pm

Yeah, I was going to say “probably not”.

Len Werner
February 27, 2020 7:17 pm

A most interesting analysis, and very striking photos. I remember watching a serious sandstorm approaching once just after leaving Carlsbad Caverns and traveling south in southern New Mexico–I stopped! I am a small-aircraft pilot and I can imagine the cringing of anyone flying through a sky like that and thinking of the damage being done to the turbine blades and leading edges.

My first observation is that if there are already sandy beaches there because of transport of dust from the Sahara–this is likely not ‘unprecedented’. That has become a much misused word.

Second, geologically the Canary Islands really are just a spit in the ocean, plus it is man-made that they are a tourist destination. What if either the islands themselves, or the tourists that visit them with cameras, were not there?–would this be any kind of an issue? Would we have noticed?

Reply to  Len Werner
February 28, 2020 7:23 am

Sort of like the question ‘If a man says something in the woods and a woman is not there to hear him, is he still wrong?’

Reply to  Len Werner
February 28, 2020 12:04 pm

The author is, obviously, an English as a second language writer. So, overall, not a bad job. Probably used the word to add emphasis but (to quote Inigo Montoya) “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Reply to  TomB
February 28, 2020 12:54 pm

Yes, you are right. Although I lived 4 years in California, my English is still far from perfect. They say, that human is able to learn language like mother one till 7th year of life. I got a chance only well after that, when iron curtain fell in Europe and I was 15. I just envy my youngest son, who between his 3-7 years learned English as native.

Reply to  Peter
February 28, 2020 11:46 pm

You are doing well in your writing. Welcome to America! Be everything that you hoped and dreamed. We want you to succeed.

Len Werner
February 27, 2020 7:21 pm

A precedent I remember–

Of course this does not involve odd jet-stream activity. But still an amazing sight.

February 27, 2020 7:49 pm

More weather.

Steve Case
February 27, 2020 8:01 pm

Try to find airplane on this one…

comment image

Good ol’ Microsoft Photo Editor

February 27, 2020 9:17 pm

I saw a documentary a few years ago that explained how sediment cores from this part of the Atlantic document the cyclic greening and desertification of the Sahara over geologic time (and apparently it was pretty lush and tropical not that long ago if memory serves). So big dust storms off the continent are nothing particularly new. As isn’t sea level rise and fall, CO2 variation in the atmosphere, El Niño / La Niña cycles, Arctic and Antarctic ice coverage, and everything else on Earth which is a dynamic, not static system.

February 27, 2020 10:31 pm

@ Peter, nice observations, but

The Sahara has been dumping on the Canary Islands for a long time & the finer particles help fertilise the Amazon rain forest.

Even in the UK we sometimes get Sahara dust, (nothing on this scale), the most spectacular I can remember was one summer in the late 1960s, in Cardiff the streets were running with blood red rain, around that time we had golf-ball size hailstones (I think it was the same year) . It brought out all ‘The End of The World is Nye’ brigade with their sandwich boards & bibles.

Julian Flood
Reply to  saveenergy
February 28, 2020 1:43 am

AS in Bill Nye the science guy? Appropriate.


Gary Pearse
Reply to  saveenergy
February 28, 2020 7:14 am


shortus cynicus
February 27, 2020 10:39 pm

Dust casing cold climate?
What about:
1. Cold climate cools oceans.
2. Cold water dissolves CO2
3. Plants starving and exposing naked soil.
4. Soil turns into dessert allowing frequent sand storms.

Desert off topic: one of few European desserts is manmade Błędów Desert.

Now eco-activists, well founded by EU, are ‘fighting’ to prevent reforestation caused by raising underground water levels, and of course, higher CO2 level.

They fight for preservation of destruction caused by mining industry. This is an example, how deranged it can be. It trumps even Trump derangement syndrome. They care only about money and believe into their self-importance.

I’m just waiting for a call, to spray the area with Glyphosate.

February 27, 2020 11:13 pm

This has probably nothing to do with my conclusion that this could be Precession that is causing CC but ‘must’ be CO2 in the atmosphere that is causing these extreme Climate phenomena such as splitting the Jet Stream into two ‘strong’ streams! This little molecule is so much bigger and destructive than anyone can perceive. For every 1 Molecule of CO2 emitted by humans of the 85,000 compounds in the atmosphere 1 is of human origin but it’s this 1 that is so destructive (when there are 32 molecules of naturally produced CO2). I bet none of you had any idea of the power of this tiny anthropogenically produced molecule did you(?)

February 27, 2020 11:17 pm

My proper comment dropped ….

Briefly: African dust carries fungal spores. Caribbean reef dying seen in 1970s -1990s touted as being due to global warming in 1990s press releases was instigated by Aspergillus sydowii in that dust.

I wonder how many other reports of reefs dying from global warming might also involve air carried fungal spores. See free full text on-line of Shinn, et al. (2000): “African dust and the demise of Caribbean coral reefs”.

Alan Kendall
February 28, 2020 12:02 am

Dust does not magically transform into sand except in the mind of those falsely reporting “sandstorms”. Even really strong winds fail to raise sand grains more than a few feet into the air – this is why sand erosion in deserts is limited vertically and pedestal rocks form.
Somewhere I recall reading that much of the South American rainforest was fertilized by dust that has blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara.

February 28, 2020 12:13 am

It is called “calima” in Spanish.

Not umprecedented at all.

Reply to  Urederra
February 28, 2020 10:38 am

Yes I heard ‘calima’ word a lot that time. I was thinking about writing ‘unprecedented in our time’ maybe it would be better choice. This is unprecedented in satellite era. Of course there were bigger events on geological scale.

Martin Howard Keith Brumby
February 28, 2020 12:47 am

Here in the UK, GangGreen and their busy supporters bang on about Climate Change, Plastics and “Pollution”, (usually meaning CO2, Plastic and PM2.5 particulates).

All these things are interchangeable and are touted as all being the evil faults of wicked Capitalists delaying the inevitable transition to a wonderful Socialist utopia.

We are told that the evil particulates kill 40,000 people a year (now updated to 60,000 a year.)

Readers will not be amazed to learn that this figure has been belched out by some genius “scientists” and their X-boxes, based on very dodgy data which, manipulated in a different way, could be made to “prove” that the average lifespan of UK residents will be reduced by three days. (Notwithstanding the enormous reductions in actual, properly measured, air “pollution” since the 1970s – let alone the 1950s.

Having been made (at great expense) to measure PM 10s and PM2.5s “caused” by earthmoving operations in Yorkshire, I must point out that rigorous analysis of this “fugitive” dust was as likely to show that it was Saharan dust or salt crystals from ocean storms or dust from Power Station chimneys as dust from adjacent earthmoving operations.

That, needless to say, was completely ignored by GangGreen activists, who blithely carried on waving their shrouds, moaning piteously.

Thomas Gough
February 28, 2020 1:39 am

Perhaps this is the big picture. The jet stream appears to have become meridional, i.e. ‘wavey’ with kinks etc and in places moved south as clearly shown in the image in the report. The recent cold northerly blasts in parts of Canada and USA have been attributed to this phenomenon. The image in the report shows part of the jet stream over northern Africa and extending into the Atlantic. I suggest that the cyclone which brought Saharan dust to the Canary Islands was linked to the jet stream.
As I understand it the jet stream becoming meridional may be the result of the current deep solar minimum and the sun’s much reduced magnet field — Cosmic rays etc. Comments ?

February 28, 2020 1:51 am

I doubt it’s unprecedented – we had a very similar sandstorm made it all the way to the UK in October 2017.

There was no cloud but, at the worst, in Sussex, the sun was invisible, it went so dark just after mid-day all the street lights came on and we had the eerie orange glow most of the day.

And according to National Geographic, in 1954 a swarm of locusts flew (i.e. the wind took them) from northwest Africa to Great Britain.

Reply to  MrGrimNasty
February 28, 2020 1:58 am

Forgot to say, the UK sand was a result of Hurricane Ophelia (Oct, 2017).

Reply to  MrGrimNasty
February 28, 2020 12:39 pm

Let’s say unprecedented in records and for Canary Islands. I’m well aware of 2017 event, I was washing my car from Saharan dust too in central Europe.
You know what is funny? I’m currently home in Slovakia, just washed all clothes from Canarian dust, drying them outside as my dryer is broken and around midnight Sahara dust should make it here.

February 28, 2020 1:51 am

And we can soon see headlines: Corona virus carried by sandstorms, as a result of global warming.
The illness has come to Tenerife, Canary Islands at the same time as dust-storms.

Peter Moles
February 28, 2020 2:02 am

I live in Edinburgh and we have had “dust” rain from the Sahara, so it is possible for sand/dust to travel a very long way once carried up into the air. Not on a scale you experienced, but once something gets up there, it flies.

Paul Kolk
February 28, 2020 2:32 am

“Exact position of them has many variables like atmosphere pressure, speed of Earth rotation and probably Sun/Earth magnetic field”.
Whilst the article was interesting and thought provoking, I’m not sure that we have seen much change in the speed of Earth rotation for quite a while………. Unless I’ve missed something!

Reply to  Paul Kolk
February 28, 2020 1:10 pm

But it is relevant on scale of millions years. As number of cells is proportional to speed of rotation. When it will slow down, Polar Cell will merge with Ferrel Cell averaging polar zone with temperate zone, causing temperature decrease in temperate zone.
Recently somebody posted here about Venus, which has only one big atmospheric cell because of extreme slow rotation.

Ben Vorlich
February 28, 2020 2:49 am

As the Jetstream was unknown until the 1930s and is still being researched then anything it does that has not been seen before should be described as such. Unprecedented is a much misused word.

Alan Kendall
February 28, 2020 4:41 am

How very strange. As an occasional commentator on this site for more than a decade I don’t expect to have my posts moderated, let alone expunged. Yet that is what has happened.
And the post only had three innocuous topics
1. Sand and dust are not the same.
2. Sand only lifted by the strongest winds a few feet into the air, and
3. It has been stated in the past that South American rain forests fertilized by Saharan dust blown across the Atlantic.
Which topic got me banned?

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Alan Kendall
February 28, 2020 8:44 am

You didn’t get banned, Alan. I think the post you think was banned is up above in the thread.

Sometimes comments don’t get posted immediately. It may take a while before they show up. I think that is what happened to you.

Anthony is working on some new comment software which will hopefully resolve some of these problems.

Ed Zuiderwijk
February 28, 2020 7:14 am

Unprecedented? I doubt it. There used to be an extinction monitor located at the La Palma Cumbre Viejo observatory. That is an instrument that measures the transparency of the atmosphere which is obviously an important quantity to know at an observatory. I visited the place quite regularly in the 1990s and had occasionally the bad luck of not being able to observe at all because of Saharan Dust. The dust record used to be publicly accessible.
Saharan dust deposits have been found as far away as the Amazonian rainforests.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 28, 2020 8:53 am

Without Sahara, no Amazonian rainforest .
NASA Satellite Reveals How Much Saharan Dust Feeds Amazon’s Plants
A new paper published Feb. 24 in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, provides the first satellite-based estimate of this phosphorus transport over multiple years, said lead author Hongbin Yu, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. A paper published online by Yu and colleagues Jan. 8 in Remote Sensing of the Environment provided the first multi-year satellite estimate of overall dust transport from the Sahara to the Amazon.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 28, 2020 8:55 am
Gary Pearse
February 28, 2020 7:36 am

I experienced the Harmattan in Nigeria in mid 1960s, winds carrying red dust from the Sahara, strongest between November to March. The red sky is the same as in your pictures. The inside of your shirt collar is red, and white shirts take on a pale pinkish color!

Perhaps the configurations you analyzed are uncommon, the Harmattan is not. It happens over several months each year. The stiff breeze highly likely creates cyclonic patterns at the boundaries of the rapidly flowing air masses that you depict. Although it may be uncommon over the Canaries it shouldn’t be as a general phenomenon.

TG McCoy
February 28, 2020 10:39 am

It is not uncommon to get high altitiude dust drom the Gobi in the Pacific NW-due to high altitude jet stream, Usually in the spring and can bring a fine hazy dust that is yellowish in color.
This Possibility of a Worldwide/Hemisphere event is interesting. I remember Pinatubo’s effect and the fact it might have killed of the El Nino of the ’92 season..i do believe this is going to be -“Interesting” hopfully not Spockian “Interesting” as in popping out of warp in the middle of a KIlingon Battle fleet…

February 28, 2020 11:33 am

I am afraid I cannot subscribe to this explanation:

All this is caused by position of Jet Streams and those are defined by position of Hadley, Ferrel and Polar cells.

Another ready-made explanation that fails to look at the genesis of the situation in the lower layers.
Starting with a 1035 hPa Mobile Polar High from Greenland on Feb 20 2020 that invaded the North Atlantic down to the Azores. On Feb 21, a Quebec originated 1025 hPa MPH cut off cold air supply of the previous one and, unable to displace the denser 1035 hPa air mass of the previous MPH, started to spread around the HP knob SW and NE toward respectively the eastern Seaboard and Europe, giving one the strong wind storm northern France and UK experienced after the passage of the Dennis one.
That dynamic situation squeezed the remnants of the Greenland MPH from Western Europe toward the Atlantic, feeding a strong NE-SW flow of still relatively dense air, reinforcing the knob and maintaining its 1035hPa. That flow created the vortex of the Canary Islands and when dense air finally reached the African shores, it acted like a Haboob, shaving sand and sending it spiraling into that depression vortex.
This synoptic situation prevailed until the 25 Feb, which is until the former 1035hPa air mass finally got tropicalized and moved westward agglutinating to some previous tropicalized air mass near the Caribbeans and the flow slowed down, diminishing the vortex.
As for this:

It is proven that during Ice Ages dust level in atmosphere is very high. The higher dust content the colder. This event was exceptional, but if for some reasons this becomes periodical it can have serious impact on climate, I dare to say it can trigger descent to Ice Age.

If anything, this event is the result of a specific synoptic situation brought in by colder/denser descent of air masses from Polar Regions, through Greenland and Quebec. Greenland experienced record cold temperature this winter and quite high pressures.
Ice ages dust was the result of high pressure anticyclonic conditions brought by the rapid descent of very cold air masses from Polar Regions, generating haboob events when encountering dry soils and desert sands. This may become a retro-action enhancing colder conditions but, again, it is only a consequence of already colder/denser air masses invading deeper southward, hardly what periods of general warming have produced.

Bill Rocks
February 28, 2020 11:54 am

Turbulent fluid flow.

It is dust, not sand. Mostly silt-size particles less than 1/16 mm dimension.

If this continues off and on for decades or centuries, it is climate, otherwise this one event is just turbulent weather. Many examples in the earth’s geologic record of significant deposits of “dust”. These deposits are called loess. As much as 100 meters thick in China. Loess hills in Iowa; loess in eastern Washington state, and so forth around the world.

Reply to  Bill Rocks
February 28, 2020 1:30 pm

Sand – small particles of natural mineral origin
Dust – fine particles of any origin.
Small includes fine.
So if you say Sand to some dusty dune on Sahara it is ok.
And I think it is ok to say Sand to fine particles in air to emphasize its mineral origin.

Alan Kendall
Reply to  Peter
February 29, 2020 12:59 am

Sand is a size term, unrelated to composition (so you can have sands made of plastic or foraminifera). One of the features of sands made of minerals is that even strong winds cannot lift mineral sand grains high into the atmosphere and the weight of the sand grain brings it down to the surface down flow. Upon hitting a surface composed of other sand grains it dislodges some which rise up and get caught up by the wind to travel downwind only for them to be brought down to the surface and dislodge more sand grains. This process, called saltation, can best be experienced on a windy day on a dry beach when the lowest few feet of the air are full of moving sand grains, but above a certain level the air is completely sand free. Your legs and lower body may get sand blasted but your head can be sand free.
Only fine silt and clay grains (also size terms) can be lifted by the wind high into the air to create dust-clouds and dust-storms. Because there are adhesive forces between clay sized mineral particles, the wind can only lift dry fine-grained sediments. Sediment-laden air (except close to the ground) never contains sand grains, so when it forms part of weather phenomena these are best referred to as “dust storms”.

February 28, 2020 2:39 pm

From Wikipedia:
The entire Amazon basin is fertilized annually by 27 million tons of diatom shell dust transported by transatlantic winds from the African Sahara, much of it from the Bodélé Depression
In the center of the Bodélé depression there still is a lake: lake Chad which gave its name to the country of Chad.
Two years ago I was in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. The beaches on the west coast are black (basaltic grains with some olivine), beaches on the north-east coast are white, I suppose seashell fragments, have to check (took a sample).

Reply to  Teerhuis
March 1, 2020 12:37 pm

“n the center of the Bodélé depression there still is a lake: lake Chad”

No. The Bodélé depression is a separate basin, actually lower than lake Chad. When lake Chad was higher than now it occasionally overflowed into it. And Lake Mega Chad, which only exists when climate is considerably warmer than now (yes warmer) comprises both basins.

February 29, 2020 6:59 am

The African dust supplies important mineral-nutrients for the N Atlantic zooplankton.

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