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Last updated date: 22nd Mar 2024
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What is Khamsin

The Khamsin is a very dry, hot and sandy wind that blows with great speeds from south to south-east, affecting Egypt and the eastern countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (also known as Levant). The name Khamsin of the wind is a local name that is more common in Egypt and is also used in the Levant such as in Israel, Jordan, Palestine, etc. The wind may also be called Chamsin, Hamsin, or the more popular word of Egypt - Khamaseen. The meaning of the word Khamsin comes from the Arabic and Arabic dialects meaning “fifty” which refers to the fifty day period during which the Khamsin blows over the region. 

Characteristics of the Khamsin

The Khamsin, as is clear from the introduction, is a dry and sand-filled windstorm blowing over Egypt for a period of 50 days in the spring season. In Levant, it takes a different form as it blows in both the spring and the autumn. Similar winds that blow in other parts of the North African region, the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean basin. They have different names for the similar phenomenon such as bad-i-sad-o-bist roz in Iran and Afghanistan, haboob in Sudan, ajej in southern Morocco, ghibli in Tunis, africo in Italy, sirocco (meaning “easterly in Arabic) or sirocco dan khamsin (loosely translating to easterly flowing for fifty days), etc. 

As the Khamsin passes through a given area, it carries large amounts of dust from the deserts along with it. An image of such a sandstorm is shown below in the given picture:

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This windstorm or sandstorm is known to occur for over fifty days with a time interval of a few days. While it blows over a particular area, it lasts for a few hours, sometimes even for three to four days and has the following characteristics and effects over the given area:

  • Blowing at a speed reaching 140 km/hr along with the dust it leads to a very oppressive weather condition which can be responsible sometimes for the death of the people as well. 

  • As it blows the humidity over the area drops below 5% causing extreme dryness in the weather and which can hinder electrical properties due to which many times the magnetic compass as well goes haywire. 

  • The Khamsin is so hot, that even during the time of the winter season, it can cause a rise in the temperature upto 45° C because of the storm. 

  • Within two hours it can cause a rise of 20° C in the temperature of the day. 

  • In the Levant, it brings oppressive weather front, with hot temperatures and huge amounts of dust obstructing the visibility without any strong winds flowing during the day. Although, strong winds might occur at night. 

  • After blowing continuously for a significant amount of time, is followed by an inflow of much cooler air. 

The Khamsin is known to be caused by the extratropical cyclones that travel eastwards following the southern parts of the Mediterranean or the North African coast from February to June. In other words, the shift in the low pressure centre towards the east, over the Sahara, of the southern Mediterranean, leads to Khamsin flowing from the south to south-east. On the front side, the low pressure centre brings in the dry air, northward, out of the desert and on the rear side it brings the cool air southward from the Mediterranean. 

Historical Accounts and Cultural Impacts of Khamsin

The Khamsin sandstorms have been reported to have seriously impacted the military campaigns of Napoleon in Egypt and Allied-Germany campaign in North Africa in World War II. In the case of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign in 1798, the French had an extremely difficult time dealing with the Khamsin. The storm appeared to them “as a blood[y] tint in the distant sky”. While fighting against the Ottomans during the Khamsin, the Ottomans took cover and the French unaccustomed to the circumstances “did not react until it was too late, then choked and fainted in the blinding, suffocating walls of dust”. An image of the bloody tint is shown in an image below:

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Similar difficulties were faced by the Allied-German forces during the North African campaign of World War II. “Allied and German troops were several times forced to halt in mid-battle because of sandstorms caused by the khamsin…. Grains of sand whirled by the wind blinded the soldiers and created electrical disturbances that rendered the compasses useless.”

The sandstorm has so much geographical significance that it has heavily influenced the cultural life as well. It is the Khamsin which in the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible is named as the ruah kadim or the “east wind” responsible for the parting of the Red Sea. 

A 19th century account of the Khamsin in Egypt, states the following:

“These winds, though they seldom cause the thermometer of Fahrenheit to rise above 95° in Lower Egypt, or in the Upper Egypt 105°, are dreadfully oppressive, even to the the natives. When the plague visits Egypt, it is generally in the spring; and the disease is most severe in the period of Khamáseen.”

From the same source it is observed that the Muslims in Egypt, “calculate the period of [Khamaseen]..., to commence on the day immediately following the Coptic festival of Easter Sunday, and to terminate on the Day of Pentecost (or Whitsunday); an interval of 49 days.” This period is the period that coincides with the Jewish Counting of the Omer, that also has the time duration of 49 days. In Israel, the Khamsin is more formally known as the sharav. 

Some of the Most Recent Cultural Impacts of the Khamsin are Listed as Below:

  • Khamsin was the title of a 1982 Israeli film that tells the story of the clash between a Jewish landowner and his Arab workers in a small farming village in the Galilee. 

  • “Khamsin” was the codename for one of the characters of the video game Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. 

  • “Khamsin” was also the name of a character Flame Haze in the anime Shakugan no Shana. 

  • The speed aspect of the Khamsin has been taken into account while naming windy khamsin 35 and Maserati Khamsin. The windy khamsin 35 is a motor yacht produced by the company Windy. The Maserati Khamsin is a grand tourer produced by the company Maserati from 1974 - 1982.  The Maserati Khamsin is the common result when searched for lamborghini khamsin. The lamborghini khamsin, one of  the common searches for fast cars on google displays the information regarding the Maserati. 

  • The Khamsin has also been depicted in one of the stories of the adventures of Tintin. 

FAQs on Khamsin

1. What is Khamsin Wind?

Ans: Khamsin is a very dry, hot and dusty wind that flows from south to southeast over Egypt and the esatern countries in the Mediterranean basin. The word Khamsin comes from the Egyptian Arabic, which means “fifty” in reference to the number of days the storm blows over Egypt and the surrounding area which also includes countries such as Israel, Jordan, etc. It is a dry wind carrying the sand and dust from the Sahara desert and is formed because of the shift in the low-pressure centre towards east over the Sahara. The hot sandstorm is usually followed by the inflow of cool air. 

2. Which Word is Used to Describe Khamsin in Israel and through other Middle Eastern Countries?

Ans: Khamsin is a hot, dry and dusty windstrom blowing from south to southeast over Egypt and other countries that form a part of the Mediterranean basin. They have different names in different places. Khamsin is the word used in Egyptian Arabic to describe the fifty day period of the windstorm during the spring when it annually occurs. In Israel, Khamsin is more formally known as  sharav. In other countries through the Middle Eastern, other words such as ‘simoom’ which means “to poison” are used to describe the strong, dry,  and dust-laden wind.