It’s been an odd winter in the Algarve this year. Mostly quite warm, and not enough rain, but then there was a week where it was unusually cold. I drove to my Pilates class in the morning and our car made the little “ding” it does when it wants to alert us to something: in this case, the warning that it was now 3º Celsius outside and icy roads were a possibility.
Then I began to see tiny, drifting bits of white.
We live in the flat part of the Algarve — the rolling plain that reaches from the base of the coastal hills to the ocean. It doesn’t snow here.
Since snow was not a possible explanation for the white floaty things, I concluded that perhaps they were bits of almond blossoms, because the trees were in full bloom at the time and the countryside was studded with them. Of course, I had no explanation for what would cause almond blossoms to disintegrate into such tiny pieces.
Another kilometer of driving and there were far more of those white bits, at which point the almond blossom theory went out the window. It was actually snowing. Not much, and certainly not sticking, but that was real, live snow.
A kilometer more and there were so many tiny flakes in the air that they were ticking against my windshield. I arrived at the museum where I teach, got out of the car, and boggled at the sensation of snow on my face. Then I walked into the museum’s courtyard, where I found one of the employees standing in her open office doorway, staring out in absolute amazement. She looked at me and said, “Is this snow?”
She had never seen it before, so she had to ask.
Then in late February, we had the sandstorm from North Africa. Once again I was on my way to Pilates class, and when I pulled out of our garage into the street, the whole world looked wrong. The sky was tan-colored, and the streets looked washed out — it was as if I had just emerged into a monochrome movie.
As I drove through town, every car parked on the sides of the streets was covered with orangish dust. So were the streets and sidewalks.
This was at the same time that the UK got hammered with high winds, so I think the pressure gyres might have pulled this weather up from North Africa. It happens now and again, but almost always in the summer — that’s when we get freakishly hot temperatures and orange skies, but even then we don’t get the dust. This was seriously weird.
My students reported that the phenomenon reached across the Algarve, and everyone who had left cars out or laundry hanging overnight had a lot of work to do.
Upon driving home, the suspended dust particles were even thicker, so I stopped for this photo:
…which is terrible quality but nevertheless shows how dark it was. That is not clouds hiding the sun. It’s dust.