Q: A sandstorm is a sandstorm, right? So why are there so many different names for the kinds of sandstorms in Iraq? What’s up with that?

A: We know it seems like the sandstorms in Iraq are never-ending and one is just as bad as the other, but there are actually two “types” of winds that cause most of the storms: the “sharqi” and the “shamal.”

Just as Eskimos are said to have 100 different words for snow, the two types of winds that Iraqis — and those throughout the Mideast — refer to have their own properties.

From roughly April to early June, in the early summer, the dry, dusty southern wind is called the “sharqi.” Those winds can pack punches of up to 60 miles per hour. The sharqi recurs in late September and November.

The other kind of wind, the shamal, usually comes from the north or northwest and occurs from roughly mid-June through mid-September, during the height of the summer. These winds can cause sandstorms that reach a few kilometers up into the air, hampering flights and visibility.

So with regular cycles of winds, and — of course — plenty of sand to go around, it’s no surprise that sandstorms are common in Iraq. All you can do is sit and wait until they pass…

Got a question about goings-on in the Mideast? E-mail Stripes at:

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