The term Harmattan is closely related to the Twi word, “Haramata”. It is a season in West Africa characterized by dry, dusty winds. Harmattan is usually at its peak during the late fall and winter seasons. That is late November to mid-March the following year.
Which Wind Brings Harmattan To Nigeria?
Harmattan is brought to Nigeria by dry Northeast trade winds, which blow from the Sahara over regions in West Africa, and into the Gulf of Guinea. This wind usually blows during the dry season, which occurs in months with the lowest sun.
On the wind’s passage over the Sahara, it carries fine sand and dust particles (mostly between 0.5 and 10 microns). The wind carries these lofty amounts of dust particles and transports them over several hundreds of kilometers, even as it journeys over the Atlantic ocean.
This Northeast trade wind is strengthened by the low-pressure center at the North coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and the high-pressure center present in Northwestern Africa during the winter season.
Effects of the Harmattan Season in West Africa
Harmattan is not only associated with dry, dusty winds. It is also characterized by wide variations in the surrounding temperatures of day and night, and low relative humidity in the affected countries.
The onset of the harmattan season can cause ambient temperatures in regions of West Africa to drop to 9°C (48.2°F). While the temperature of some days could be this low, it could likewise soar to as high as 30°C (86°F) on other days.
Relative humidity also hits its all-time low of below 15%, and even under 5% on some days. These fluctuations in temperature have posed a great source of concern, not just for the health status of inhabitants in the affected regions, but for the environment as well.
Here are some of the health and environmental effects caused by the harmattan season:
- Harmattan brings about weather conditions that are similar to what’s experienced in desserts. This includes low humidity, prevents rainfall, depreciates cloud cover, and creates big clouds of dust which can result in dust or sand storms capable of destroying properties, and human livelihood.
- The large amounts of dust in the atmosphere limit aircraft visibility, and can obstruct the sun for several days. This condition is similar to heavy fog and is often called Harmattan Haze. The reduced visibility caused by the dust particles results in a series of canceled and diverted flights every year. This has cost airline operators millions of dollars, and travel delayed the traveling of passengers. Sea travel is also greatly affected.
- The low relative humidity can cause nosebleeds and other health problems, such as dryness of skin, eyes, lips, and respiratory systems. Persons with asthmatic conditions tend to suffer the most during such periods, as their condition is greatly aggravated. There is also a massive decline in the health status of persons suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
- During the harmattan season, microorganisms responsible for causing various ailments to abound. This is the reason for the spike in the outbreak of bacterial meningitis, and respiratory tract infections.
- The dry wind and low relative humidity during the harmattan season, have also greatly increased the risk of fire outbreaks in homes and wildfires. Wildfires are a major threat to the balance of nature, and have destroyed several valuable properties and farmlands.
- The lack of moisture in the air also causes severe damage to crops. As such, agricultural produce during this season is significantly reduced and plants thrive less.
Staying Healthy During the Harmattan Season
Although harsh, and sometimes harmful, the harmattan season cannot be avoided in West-African countries. It’s almost like a natural phenomenon. However, it can be managed.
During the harmattan season, persons are advised to limit any form of activity that could result in dust generation. You should also consume more liquid than you would ordinarily, especially water, as this would help keep you hydrated and prevent heatstroke.
Why is the Harmattan Wind called Doctor Wind?
The Harmattan wind is also referred to as “Doctor Wind”, because of the earnest dryness that comes with the season. It is a far cry from the humid tropical air, common in most West-African countries. It is also associated with many health-related issues.
Is Harmattan the same as winter?
Harmattan is not the same as winter, as it is characterized by cold, dry winds, low relative humidity, and laden with dust particles.