La Calima: A Haze over Tenerife
“Calima”. During our time on Tenerife, we had heard the word enough to make us curious. “Watch out for the calima! The calima is coming! What’s the calima going to be like this year?” Eventually I looked it up, and then scoffed to Jürgen, “Guess what it means? HAZE. That’s what everyone is so worried about! A little haze!” He joined me in a hearty laugh, and we got back to booking our flights back home. A bit of haze was not going to stop that.
But actually, it almost did. The word “calima” might translate as “haze”, but I should have been paying attention to the grammar. People weren’t referring to “calima”, but “la calima”. And that definite article meant something. This wasn’t just any haze… but The Haze. Like, the haze to end all hazes.
We got our first glimpse of it, while on a tour to see whales. “Why is the sky so red?”, I asked. “Why can’t we see the shoreline anymore?” The captain of the ship uttered his response with dread: “La calima está por llegar”.
I would have classified that day as the strangest and heaviest haze I would probably ever see, but that’s because I didn’t realize what was about to happen. Toward the end of February 2020, one of the worst calimas in the history of the Canary Islands occurred. Sand from the Sahara (not actually too far away) was whipped up into the atmosphere and blown toward the west, over the archipelago, blotting out the sun and tinting the sky a dark shade of blood-orange.
Flights were grounded for days — we happened to get out on the day before the airports shut, just before the worst of the storm arrived. Seeing footage afterward, it was almost unbelievable. Something like 60,000 metric tons of sand was dropped on Tenerife.
Insane, and let’s just say I’ll never again scoff when someone sounds the alarm over an approaching haze. It’s not usually this bad… 2020 was the worst year for la calima in four decades. But since the effects of global warming seem to be causing the intensity of the world’s meteorological events to spike, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens more and more frequently.
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