The Great April Sandstorms

The first steps out of my apartment building are down about seven stairs to the parking lot. So, when I come outside, I have a bad habit of looking down until I get to the asphalt. Then I look up and see the apartment building across the little street. Depending on where I am going, I may look left to or right to see if there’s anyone coming in a car. Tonight I glanced left only long enough to ascertain that no one was coming from that direction, and I turned right, heading over to the Subway kiosk here on the compound.

No sooner had I turned than I felt grit of some sort in my eyes. I looked up, and sand obscured the minarets on the Imam University campus. Lots of sand. As in moving sand in a sandstorm. Waves of it moved like smoke in front of headlights from cars passing by. I should have realized we were having a sandstorm from the sinus pressure I’d begun to feel about 6pm; but I had been playing (poorly) online poker, and the idea of a storm didn’t cross my mind.

As bad as tonight’s sandstorm is, so far it is nothing compared to the one we had one week ago this past Tuesday. We are talking a sand storm. Not quite Lawrence of Arabia level, but not far below that in intensity. Our compound is on the edge of town, and there is not a lot to break the wind or catch the sand as it blows across the terrain. The wind was pushing 50 to 60 mph, easily – bending palm trees, and blowing fronds from them, across the roads in front of cars. A clear, visible delineation between sandstorm and non-sandstorm crossed the visible landscape like an undulating curtain some 500 yards ahead of me. Coming at evening rush hour, I was glad I was within a very short distance of the compound.

Once behind the wall of sand, visibility decreased to about 25 yards ahead of me. As I said, I was very nearly back to the compound, and I quickly found my exit and the road to the gate. Off to the right, there is a huge building that reminds me of the Arche de Triomphe, only much, much bigger. This building is massive and easily seen from several kilometers/miles away. That afternoon it looked like a wraith in the fog, the scarcest of outlines visible.

Inside my apartment, my cat, Shakira, was happy as she could be that I was home. The sound of the wind bothered her, and she stuck close to me. About an hour later, the sand stopped, and the sky filled with chains of lightning that literally spanned the sky from as far to the left as I could see to as far to the right as I could see. I kept thinking of strings of white Christmas lights hung in the eaves of houses. Bolts began to strike all over, and huge claps of thunder rattled the windows. Shakira didn’t find the storm quite as awe inspiring as I did, but she stayed near me as I stared out the bedroom window. The thunder and lighting storm lasted somewhere between 1 and 2 hours, then exchanged places with heavy rain that pounded the ground for another 2 hours.

The next night, the same thing happen, only not quite as intense. I got some pictures of the trees that night, which I’ll post at some point (as soon as I figure out how to post pictures to the blog). Thursday night saw even more rain.

The Saudis are somewhat freaked about the storms. They, and several longtime expats, say this has never happened before in April. About the only thing to look forward to in April is the increasing heat and lots and lots of sunshine, certainly not rain.

I was wondering if we’d have thunder and lightning tonight, and I hear what sounds like thunder. But, I don’t see any lightning; so, it could be my imagination. We’ll find out soon enough.

I wonder how T.E. Lawrence and his Bedouin companions would weather this night.

Copyright 2007, Greg Hubbard.

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