by Bonnie Schneider
CNN Severe Weather Team
In recent weeks huge incessant sand storms have disrupted life across the Middle East. These massive storms shut down the city of Tehran, Iran for days, and caused U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a trip to Kurdistan while he was in Iraq recently.
According to Multi-national Corps-Iraq Technical Sgt. John Lawless, who works in the staff weather office, the sand storms in the region are getting worse.
"The last two years appear to have more numerous dust storms of longer duration…it is also likely that the drought has made more dust available in ...Iraq and Syria"
In this part of the world the wind that carries the dust and sand is called a "Shemal". This northwesterly wind blows from Western Syria into Iraq and can carry the dust for many miles. The topography of Iraq plays a role as to why the storms grow in size and intensity.
"NW Iraq to SE Iraq is a valley region...as the dust gets picked up in Syria it gets funneled into this valley area...it has less of a chance to disperse...this helps to make the dust denser." Sgt. Lawless told CNN.
The health effects from these tall, sand clouds are enormous. Dr. Lisa Zacher is the Pulmonary Medical Consultant to the Unites States Army Surgeon General. She treated patients with sand storm related injuries in Texas and Iraq.
"Even persons without pre-existing lung disease can suffer from irritation if the nose, throat, and lungs. ...Eye injuries can range from simple irritation to corneal abrasions...Chronic exposure can lead to the development of respiratory illnesses..." She told CNN.
If you are ever caught in a sand storm, Dr. Zacher advised: "Seek shelter. Protect eyes, nose and mouth (even with a sleeve or t-shirt). If you are driving, pull over to the side of the road. Stay well hydrated so that you can continue to have an effective cough."
In Iraq, typically sand storms start to decrease in frequency towards the end to the summer. But these violent blasts of nature can happen anytime, year-round.