By Arab News
The General Presidency for Meteorology and Environment yesterday warned of possible severe sandstorms in the northern and eastern regions and Riyadh. It also warned of below-zero temperatures in the northern areas of Tabuk, Turaif and Al Qurayat in the next few days.
PME spokesman Hussein Al-Qahtani said the sandstorms are the result of high winds buffeting the Kingdom. “We are now in transition from one season to another, and the Kingdom is usually affected by different rates of temperature in addition to high wind speeds,” he said.
“Wind speeds reached 60 km per hour yesterday and have been affected by the climate of the northern, eastern and central regions of the Kingdom, but God willing the storm will finish on Tuesday evening,” he said.
Al-Qahtani said he would keep the public updated on what precautions to take.
With regard to air traffic controllers and schools, he said: “We send our reports to all parties and they respond accordingly.”
Dust storms hit Jeddah yesterday, leading to visibility levels of less than two kilometers. Some schools closed for the day. The Civil Defense is on high alert, it said.
Officials also ordered the suspension of classes in many cities and provinces starting Monday. The Civil Defense office advised teachers, students and other school staff to stay home to avoid getting caught in the storm.
The Traffic Department advised motorists to exercise caution and not drive fast and use headlights.
In addition, a sandstorm yesterday morning engulfed villages in Taif and reduced visibility on the road to less than a kilometer.
Some parents of students complained about schools that continued to teach despite the hazardous conditions, while media spokesman for Health Affairs in the province of Taif Siraj Al-Humaidan confirmed health centers as well as hospitals were on high alert and prepared to receive emergency cases of children and the elderly who suffer allergic reactions.
The PME in Jeddah said dust storms would limit horizontal vision to 1 km especially in the southern part of the Eastern Province, Riyadh province, Najran and parts of the western provinces especially in the eastern part of Makkah and Madinah today.
Deputy Director of General Administration for Analysis and Forecast at PME Hassan Mirah told Arab News that the dust storms would continue and restrict horizontal vision in Makkah province and coastal governorates including Jeddah and regions sitting between Makkah and Madinah to less than 1km today.
The visibility will be minimum in open areas including express roads in those regions and also in parts of Hail and Tabuk, he said.
The temperature will fall below 0 degree Celsius in northern parts of the Kingdom especially in areas such as Turaif and Al-Qarayyat. He did not rule out snowfall in some northern regions today.
“The currently experienced dust storms are rare in the Kingdom in general and particularly in Jeddah and other parts of Makkah province. The weather condition experienced in most of the Kingdom since last Saturday, hit Jeddah on yesterday morning. The visibility is expected to improve in most of the regions including Jeddah on Tuesday,” he said.
The Eastern Province was in the eye of a severe sandstorm yesterday. Visibility was reduced to zero and a sharp wind, laden with sand, whipped down streets in Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Hasa, Hafr Al-Batin, Ras Tanura and Jubail.
The storm started blanketing the region at 8 p.m. on Saturday as sand-laden winds made life difficult for motorists who drove with hazard lights on as they negotiated their way through the thick balls of yellow and orange dust.
The spokesman of the Civil Aviation Khaled Al-Khaibary said the sandstorm did not affect the functioning of the airports in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.
“Flights were on schedule and the visibility at all three airports is enough for safe takeoff and landings,” he said. But there were reports of flights being rescheduled to avoid flying into areas with poor visibility. Airlines, as a precaution, either rescheduled the flights or canceled.
The Jeddah Seaport General Manager Sahir Tahlawi said that the sandstorm did not affect ship movements for the day. “The ship movements were as usual and the effect of the sandstorm was not felt at the port as the storm was not accompanied by heavy winds,” he said.
The emergency rooms in the hospitals at the storm-affected cities were packed with citizens and residents suffering from asthma attacks, allergies and respiratory illness. Over 800 cases in Riyadh, and about 500 cases in Dammam and Jeddah respectively were reported.
— Nadeem Al-Hamid from Jeddah, Khalid Tawalbeh from Riyadh and Siraj Wahab from Dammam contributed to the story.