True Grit: Surviving a Sharav

(adapted from an article by  Deborah Rubin Fields which originally appeared in the July-August 2011 edition of AACI’s VOICE)

A sharav by any other name is still a sharav. It has various labels, depending on its location. It often goes by the name of chamsin or sirocco. But it is also referred to as lampadista (as on the Greek island of Zakynthos), jaloque (in Spanish), xaloc (in Catalonian) or chom (in North Africa). All these names describe just one thing: a wind that makes its unwanted appearance in the spring and summer months.

A sharav (as it is called in Hebrew) is a hot, dry eastern wind – with a twist. The wind brings with it a tremendous amount of dust and sand, from the Sahara Desert. It blows across the southern Mediterranean Sea. Thus both North African and European countries experience this phenomenon.

Weather reports state that these airborne particles create a hazy sky. But the average person on the street will tell you that the result is much more than a lack of visibility.  He or she will explain that the atmosphere actually turns a yellow-gray color. With the sky such a strange color, the sun, in turn, appears white. It is rather confusing to look up in the middle of the day to see a sun that resembles the moon.

The sand lands everywhere. Outdoors, everything from plants to parked cars gets its share of dust. Even with closed doors, the sand manages to seep inside. No household surface is immune. The sand coats the whole lot – from the floor to the top of the refrigerator. Only people who don’t mind a gritty feel to their clothes hang their laundry out to dry.

In the springtime, but alas not in the summer, the sharav revs up fairly fast and ends even more quickly – in the blink of a sand-encrusted eye. It’s the middle of a sharav that is so uncomfortable. When a sharav is in progress, the temperatures soar, often way over 30 C (well into the 90s F). The humidity drops. No matter what time of day, there is simply no respite from this dry, heavy heat. Fans only serve to stir up the hot room air. The only relief, albeit an expensive one, is to seek shelter in an air-conditioned room. This situation typically lasts for a few days.

The sharav breaks when a cooler wind blows in from the west. In spring, temperatures drop dramatically in a matter of minutes. If people are lucky, the sharav ends with a cleansing rain shower.  Frequently, however, there is only a drizzle which, since so much sand has collected beforehand, feels like it is raining mud! Classically, windows end up mired in dust. Yet, it is hardly worthwhile to clean the windows because in a few days’ time another sharav is likely to start.

A sharav can change the expected weather outlook. Whereas hilly and mountainous areas are normally thought of as cooler than less elevated areas, the situation sometimes changes during a sharav. Occasionally then, a sharav causes higher localities to suffer from the greater heat and air dryness. Moreover, the normally hottest parts of the country have the distinction of not having the highest temperatures.

Dr. Felix Sulman from the Hebrew University researched the possible bio-psychological effects of the sharav. His findings show that when there is a sharav, a certain part of the population experiences a rise in its serotonin level. Serotonin is a hormone linked to stress. When this serotonin level rose, the people in the study experienced migraine headaches, difficulties in breathing, pains around the heart, irritability, anxiety, hot flashes, anxiety and unexplained feelings of tension. Dr. Sulman also noted that people with elevated serotonin levels had a slower reaction time than those who did not have an increased level.

Not surprisingly, the sharav may have a negative impact on farming. Thus, to minimize crop damage, state agriculture departments distribute special advisory bulletins to farmers. For plants grown in the open air, the focus is on keeping plants watered during a sharav.  For those grown in hothouses, the preferred method is using steamed water.

Sharav conditions are part of life in certain regions of the world, including Israel. Studies show that the sharav affects all living things — humans, animals and plants.

A Few Cool Tips

The following beat-the-heat techniques are easy and fast to set up. They’re relatively cheap and they offer total rejuvenation whenever a sharav has you “hot under the collar.”

☺Moisten a clean washrag until wet, but not dripping. Fold it neatly and place in your freezer for several hours. When you need to chill out after your day’s outings, reach for the washrag. This frozen treat also works great after workouts and/or games or at a picnic. Just pack the washrag in a reusable container and store it in your picnic cooler. It’s heaven for your neck, forehead, scalp, arms, etc.

☺While on the subject of washrags, boil a small amount of water. Then carry a clean, dry washrag and the boiled water to the bathroom sink. Undress the top half of your body. Pour some of the boiled water over the washrag, which you have placed in the sink. Let the washrag cool for a moment, so you can wring out the excess water. Then sponge your exposed skin. Let your body air dry. Repeat until you feel absolutely refreshed.

☺Tie a very damp scarf or kerchief around your neck – or your dog’s – for a wearable cooler.

☺Store a spray bottle full of water in the fridge at home or at work (or both!). Spritz your pulse points –  wrists and neck , especially –  for a thrillingly chilling effect.

☺Here is a recommendation that carries you back into the past. Get yourself a hand-held fan. Some Mediterranean countries still have a tradition of producing stunning, but sturdy fans. Try to find a fan that has been manufactured in Turkey or Spain. (Then strike a pose!)

☺Soaking your feet is immensely relaxing. Put enough cool water in your bathtub to cover your feet. Sit on the edge of the tub or in a comfortable chair close enough to the bath so you can comfortably submerge your feet. Sit until you feel calm. If you can obtain an appropriately sized pan and you have a balcony or porch, another relaxing tip is this: Fill the pan with enough cool water to cover your feet. Place it in front of a comfortable chair. Sit in a shady spot and soak until you are completely serene. After you are restored, pour the bath water over the patio’s plants.

Sharav, chamsin, sirocco: whatever you call it, use these tips, and you won’t have to sweat it.


5 thoughts on “True Grit: Surviving a Sharav

  1. The Sahara Desert is to our south and west. How can “a hot, dry eastern wind” bring sand from the Sahara Desert to Israel???

    • I interpret the hot dry eastern wind as meaning it is an easterly wind. in other words blowing from the west to the east. Not originating in the east. Does that make more sense?

      • Not to belabor this (but I am). Per the Free Online Dictionary, “easterly” means “1. Situated toward the east. 2. Coming or being from the east: easterly winds.”

        This doesn’t detract from the points you were making or from your otherwise well-written article.

        (And perhaps the winds and sand were coming from a desert other than the Sahara?)

        • you’ve got me there. I think situated toward the east and being or coming from the east could possibly contradictory. But I am glad you liked the post and I’ll admit it. I approved this post without actually knowing exactly which desert blessed us with all that wind 🙂

          Thanks for reading and for writing.

  2. I am originally from Southern California (The LA area in the United States). I believe that the Sharav condition we have in Jerusalem can not, in anyway, be worse than the so-called Santa Ana wind conditions I experienced every autumn in The San Fernando Valley. While that latter meteorological condition persists, sometimes for weeks, the winds are intense, the dryness acute, the discomfort unremitting. One other phenomenon I’ve become aware of, at least in Jerusalem any way, is that at the end of a sharav, you can gets some rain out of the deal. You would never get that sort of relief on the “other side of a Santa Ana Condition.” So, hands down, I’ll take the Sharav any day of the week.


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