Between the end of November and the middle of March, during the dry season, harmattan winds blow in some west african countries including Nigeria and Ghana. The atmosphere becomes dusty, almost like a scene out of a science fiction movie due to the harmattan. This period is characterized by very cold temperatures in most places, misty mornings, dry atmosphere later in the day, along with chapped lips and dry skin which are also pretty common due to the harmattan winds– chapped lips could be very painful at times.
Here are eight things that you may or may not have known about the harmattan winds
An interesting Origin of the word Harmattan
The Word Harmattan is said to have originated from the West African country of Ghana sometime in the 16th century. The name comes from the Asante Twi (Asante Twi is the widely used dialect of the Akans, an ethnic group of Ghana) word “haramata”, which is a combination of two words; aherraman, that means “to blow” and tah, which is a type of grease that Africans in the past would rub on their skins to fight the dry skin conditions that the weather heralded. Over time the word evolved from the mouthful “aherramantah”, to the more presentable “haramata”. It was not until 1671 that it was adopted into the English language as the word “harmattan”.
Where the Harmattan wind comes from, and where it blows to
Harmattan is characterized by the dry and dusty trade wind that blows from the north east. The trade wind blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. The trade wind becomes cold, dry and laden with dust in the process of passing through the Sahara Desert, ushering in the season that we are by now, all too familiar with.
Hydrate and Moisturize.
The Harmattan season, also known as “the doctor” is characterized by cold mornings, cold nights, hot dry winds and dusty atmospheres. The adverse effects of this season on the other hand though cannot be overstated, and one thing that needs to be monitored closely is the levels of hydration – Hence the emphasis on the need to drink enough water during this period. Dehydration during this period can be the cause of nosebleeds, dryness of the eyes and irritation of the respiratory system.
chapped lips and dry skin occur due to the dry weather hence the need to get a body oil to keep the skin moisturized preventing it from getting dry, and to keep a lip balm for the lips handy to prevent chapped lips.
Advanced Pocket Biology.
According to health professionals, the change in the environment due to the harmattan brings about an increase in the occurrence of some chest infections. The period usually comes with dust and because there is reduced amount of water in the atmosphere, dryness. This increases the spread of infections causing cold, cough, catarrh, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Harmattan has also been known to aggravate asthma, and people with asthma are advised to keep an inhaler handy at all times.
Eating warm foods is also helpful during this period, as the temperature of the food warms the body against the cold weather, and people are advised to avoid too much Air Conditioning during this period as it could make the condition worse.
Harmattan and mosquitoes
Malaria is endemic in West African countries, and the culprit responsible for the transmission of malaria is the female anopheles mosquito which thrives during the periods of humidity, and by laying their eggs in open stagnant water sources. The dry season coupled with the harmattan has been found to be unfavorable for the adult mosquito leading to a reduction in their survival rate and also an observed reduction in the incidence of malaria compared to the rainy season.
Wearing thick clothes is important during the harmattan, long sleeves to cover the body and protect the skin also. As cruel as the weather condition may seem, it does bring benefits of its own. The cool wind brings relief from the oppressive heat and clothes dry a lot faster due to the harmattan.
The dust storms could affect air travel leading to flight delays which sometimes occur. Poor visibility due to the harmattan haze could be a cause of flight cancellation, this can leave many passengers stranded, leaving airline terminals with passengers, some of them with nowhere else to go.
It is also during the season that some fruits best grow in. The African star apple, popularly known as “Agbalumo” among the Yoruba people and “Udara” among the Igbos, are always in season during harmattan. It is common for people to take the start of harmattan for the start of the African star apple period, but it is not the only fruit that’s in season during that period. Limes and carrot are also very much in season during this period and the carrots are particularly very fresh.