Dust storm, chill bites

March 19, 2012 - 2:53:25 am

Dusty weather with strong winds brought down the visibility below 1,000 metres yesterday. (Salim Matramkot)

DOHA: The heavy sandstorm that continues to lash the country disrupted normal life yesterday, triggering public criticism about the government’s failure to declare a holiday at schools.

Apparently responding to such criticisms, raised through social networking sites, the Supreme Education Council (SEC) last evening issued a circular to all the Independent schools to “take the necessary action to protect children from bad weather.”

SEC fell short of declaring a holiday but warned the schools against exposing children to windy weather. Schools have been instructed to serve food to the children in their classrooms, and not in school canteens.

The ciricular also asked schools to keep students indoors until their parents come to pick them up or take them directly to the school bus and not allow them to wait outside before getting into their buses.

There may not be a respite from the dusty weather until tomorrow evening, according to the Meteorology Department, and children are going to be among the worst hit.

The Pediatric Emergency as well as the main emergency department at the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) were flooded with people yesterday, complaining of respiratory problems after inhaling the tiny dust particles. Such cases are expected to go up over the next two days.

The unusually turbulent weather was the talk of the town yesterday and social networking sites were abuzz with comments by people who wondered why the authorities failed to declare a holiday, at least for the schools.

“Children are the most vulnerable to this type of weather. Why can’t the Supreme Education Council declare a holiday for the schools, when the weather becomes so bad,” asked a commentator on a Qatari social website.

There were no reports of flight disruptions at the Doha International Airport yesterday. However, the dusty winds that lowered visibility below 1,000 metres in many areas gave a hard time for motorists. Many people chose to stay indoors, especially in the later part of the day, as the strong northwesterly winds caused a significant fall in temperature.

A major segment of the people who ended up in the hospitals and private clinics yesterday were outdoor workers who were also not given an off day, like the school children.

A statement issued by the Meteorology Department yesterday attributed the turbulent weather to “a high pressure over east of Gulf extending from north of the Arabian Peninsula.”

The unstable weather could prevail until tomorrow evening, with the northwesterly winds blowing at speeds ranging from 25 to 35/40 knots. Temperatures could vary between 24 to 13 degrees Celsius, about three degrees less than the normal temperature in March.

A further fall in temperature by upto 2 degrees Celsius is expected today, settling at 14 degrees at the minimum, against16 degrees recorded yesterday.

Asked about the “unusual” weather conditions, Abdullah Al Mannai, head of forecast and analysis department at the Department said this phenomenon was part of the transition from winter to summer. “What is unusual this time is the intensity of the winds. The surface dust travelling with the wind all the way from the northern part of Iraq is making the days dusty all over the east of Gulf. The impact is relatively low in Qatar compared to its distance from the point of origin,” Al Mannai told The Peninsula. The northwesterly winds are also causing a drastic fall in the temperature due to “a combination of a cold air mass with the high pressure,” he added.

“ Unfortunately there are no indications of rains until now. Normally rains can be expected in late March or early April,” he added.The Peninsula