Sahara dust blowing toward Italy grips Malta with first heatwave

A large ‘mesoscale convective weather system’ is blowing the dust and hot air from Algeria

Temperatures could climb as high as 43 degrees Centigrade according to forecasters mapping out a very strong North African ridge of high pressure.

It would be the first record-breaking heat of the year for the Maltese islands as temperatures soar to 38 degrees this week.

Even night-time temperatures are set to be above 25°C throughout.

By definition, a heatwave is a spell of three or more consecutive days with daytime highs exceeding the mean maximum temperature for that particular time of year by 5°C or more. This heat wave will bring temperatures more than 10°C the average for this time of year at times.

On 22 June, the Moderate Resolution imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured an image of dust blowing from North Africa toward Italy.

As this time-lapse animation shows, the dust appears to have traveled from Algeria and Mali, blowing across more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) due to a large mesoscale convective weather system. The dust is expected to continue traveling further north into Europe this week, according to forecasts by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

Tens of millions of tons of dust blow out each year from northern and western Africa, lofted from the Sahara Desert by strong seasonal winds. Dust storms can degrade air quality, but they also play an important role in absorbing and reflecting solar energy to regulate Earth’s climate. Dust also fertilizes ocean and land ecosystems with iron and various minerals that help plants and phytoplankton grow.

But the extension of the Sahara Desert high pressure system over the central Mediterranean drags very hot air from North Africa, pushing ‘real-feel’ values up with high humidity.

“These real-feel values can lead to some dangerous heat disorders with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity in the heat. Sea surface temperatures will gradually rise to 25°C as the heat wave progresses. This would be some two degrees above the norm for this time of year,” says the website Maltese Islands Weather.

With UV Index at an extreme 11+, this means an extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. So take all precautions because unprotected skin and eyes can be damaged in minutes. UV is highest in the early afternoon.