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Mother nature’s wrath is like none other, so the saying goes. This is especially true for those living in dry, hot desert regions. In fact, sandstorms are one of the most unpredictable and violent phenomena to occur in nature.
It is estimated that more than 2 billion tonnes of arid soil moves through the Earth’s atmosphere in these storms, impacting human health, economies and the environment.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), poor air quality has contributed to more than 7 million deaths each year, especially in countries plagued by dust and sandstorms. This is because the fine particles in the air can induce chest allergies leading to death.
Therefore, if you find yourself amidst a sandstorm or living in a country that is affected by it, here are some tips on what you can do to survive a sandstorm.
Why do sandstorms occur?
As winds strengthen and pick up in speed, they naturally lift up dirt from the ground and blow it through the air. In the case of sandstorms, the dirt comes in the form of sand.
This phenomenon can arise quickly without much warning as it only takes wind speeds of about 25 miles per hour to cause a sandstorm.
However, if we were to delve deeper, there are in actuality two types of sandstorms.
The first type occurs as a result of a severe thunderstorm that creates strong winds. Many call it a ‘haboob’ derived from the Arabic word for blowing dust.
The second type is caused by a curving of the jet stream, bringing strong winds to the surface. For those who do not know what a jet stream is, it is basically a high velocity of air that flows around the earth at mid-latitudes.
How long do sandstorms last?
According to Nielsen-Gammon, an American meteorologist, “A sandstorm can last for several hours to a full day,” For example, back in 2009 Iraq was hit with probably the largest sandstorm in modern history. The storm lasted for a week, spreading to the east and southeast, covering the Persian Gulf and Iran.
Can a sandstorm kill you?
Short answer: yes it can. While it is rare for people to die in sandstorms, it does occur. Most of the time it is due to asphyxiation caused by respiratory issues. In other cases, death is caused by accidents as there is zero visibility during a sandstorm.
10 sandstorm survival tips
Here are some survival tips, ranging from what you can do if you’re trapped in a car to if you’re on foot.
What to do in a sandstorm while driving?
If you’re living in a big city, the chances of you needing to drive from one place to another are rather high. Now, imagine the city being engulfed in a sandstorm. Here’s what you can do if you ever find yourself in such a situation.
1. Stay off the road if you’re in a car
The first thing you need to do when you see a sandstorm approaching is to pull off the road. This is to prevent another vehicle from potentially colliding into you amidst the storm as there is low to zero visibility.
The next thing you can do is to turn off your lights. Similarly to flies, drivers might get drawn to the light produced by your headlights, and that is something you want to avoid. Lastly, roll up your windows and of course close all vents that allow air to be sucked from outside.
2. Keep patience- wait it out
Since there is zero visibility, attempting to make a move might cause an accident to occur. Therefore, it would be advisable for you to stay on standby until the storm clears and wait for visibility to be restored.
What to do in a sandstorm on foot?
To escape from a stress-filled life, many have opted to explore nature and that includes the desert. Some may travel by vehicles and some on foot. For those on foot, there are extra precautions to take note of and things to bring in case of an emergency.
3. Take shelter of a large object
The first important thing to do is to take note of your surroundings. Find a large object, it can be a rock or even a tree.
Any structure will suffice as long as you can take cover behind it. In the scenario where you can’t locate anything to hide behind, your only other option would be to crouch down and cover your head with your hands.
This will help to minimise the risk of flying objects hitting your head.
4. Cover your face and eyes
The next step is to ensure all your orifices are covered, particularly your nostrils. Of course, the best option would be to use a respirator mask, but in most cases, people are not prepared and therefore, using a piece of cloth will do.
If possible, do try to wet the cloth as that helps to filter out finer particles like dust from entering into your airways. Fold the damp cloth to form a triangular shape to cover your nostrils and mouth.
5. Wipe your face and eyes with wet wipes
If you have wet wipes with you, you might want to wipe your face and eyes from time to time. As the sandstorm picks up a lot of dust and dirt, wiping regularly will prevent bacteria from attaching to your skin.
6. Use extra clothing to cover exposed parts of your body
While covering your nostrils and mouth is important, let us not forget the other parts of our body. If you have an extra piece of clothing or cloth lying around, use it to cover parts of your body that are exposed. Leaving them unprotected can cause skin abrasions.
7. Be prepared for lightning strikes too
Usually, when shelter cannot be found, the next best thing to do would be to move to higher ground. This is because sand grains don’t tend to bounce off the ground too high when they travel.
However, the downside to that is, it increases the risk of being struck by lightning. Therefore, it is not advisable to move to higher ground if you hear thunder looming in the background.
What to do in a sandstorm when at home?
Unlike the other two scenarios, being stuck indoors during a sandstorm is probably one of the best things that could happen to you. But even then, there are some things you could do to make the situation better.
8. Stay indoors if possible
When humans are put in such dangerous situations, it may be instinctual to try and run away. However, for a sandstorm, you might not want to try that. A sandstorm’s speed and direction can be unpredictable.
You definitely do not want to be caught in it while trying to escape. Hence, your best and smartest option would be to just stay indoors.
9. Keep your windows and doors tightly shut
It is very important to ensure that your windows and doors are shut tightly. This is to reduce exposure to common allergens that may trigger an asthma attack. Accompanying this with an air purifier will significantly help those suffering from respiratory issues, as there will be fewer air pollutants, making it easier to breathe.
10. Drink enough water and take fruits rich in Vitamin C
Lastly, make sure to drink plenty of water and have a rich Vitamin C diet as it helps in preventing respiratory diseases.
Staying hydrated and making sure you have the needed essentials such as an inhaler, is vital in decreasing the risks of respiratory attacks. Remember, accidents during a sandstorm can be avoided if you know what to look out for.