Reader question: Is Switzerland’s Sahara dust cloud dangerous?

From early Tuesday onwards, a yellow hue has been seen across Switzerland and some neighbouring countries due to dust from the Sahara Desert. But is it dangerous - and how do I clean it off my car?

A file photo of Sahara dust covering Switzerland in 2021. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash
A file photo of Sahara dust covering Switzerland in 2021. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

The reason for the cloud: a depression over Morocco and Algeria, which disturbs and raises the fine sand of the Sahara desert, which then heads towards Switzerland.

The reason: a depression over Morocco and Algeria, which raises the fine sand of the Sahara desert, which heads towards Switzerland.

But other than creating Instagram-ready sepia-tinged sunset photos, readers have gotten into touch to ask if they have anything to worry about. 

READ MORE: Sahara dust covers Switzerland

Should I be worried about breathing Sahara dust? 

Generally speaking, only those with allergies and asthma should be worried about the dust. 

The fine particles can enter people’s airways and cause irritation, but this is not dangerous. 

“Those with asthma could also have increased symptoms due to the Sahara dust. Due to the disease, your respiratory tract is more sensitive to various stimuli – just like fine dust. That’s why good control of asthma symptoms is important,” Roxane Guillod, an expert at the Swiss Allergy Centre, told 20 Minutes. 

The impact is comparable to pollens in spring, meaning that using your asthma medication or other allergy blockers like anti-histamines are the best treatment options. 

While a Covid mask might seem like the best approach, some of the dust can be too fine – even for FFP2 masks. 

There are no dangers with being outdoors or even exercising, although you may want to take some tissues. 

A spokesperson for Zurich’s University Animal Hospital told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes that the dust was harmless to pets. 

What about cleaning? 

The dust has been particularly noticeable on dark surfaces such as leather jackets and cars, although you should act quickly if you want to remove it properly. 

Swiss tabloid Blick says a simple rinse with soap and plenty of water can remove it from cars. The more water the better, as a dryer clean can lead to small scratches which can make the paintwork dull. 

Ideally you should take your car to a car wash, although that can be expensive. 

Stains on leather and other clothes can also be wiped off with a sponge, although less water is probably smart. Those concerned about particularly valuable items of clothing can take it to a specialist cleaner. 

What are The Local’s Reader Questions? 

As part of our service to our readers and members, we often answer questions on life in Switzerland via email when people get in touch with us. 

When these have value to the greater Local Switzerland community, we put them together as an article, with ‘reader question’ in the headline. 

All readers of The Local Switzerland can ask a reader question, i.e. you do not need to be a member. If you do find our reporting valuable however, then please consider signing up

READ MORE: What are The Local Switzerland’s reader questions?

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Winter weather to continue in Switzerland this week

Despite the sunshine of late March, winter has made a comeback in Switzerland. Here’s is what’s ahead this week.

Winter weather to continue in Switzerland this week

Swiss residents going through the latter stages of March, with its sunny skies and ‘Sahara dust’ would have been forgiven for thinking the time was right to put the winter jacket away. 

However, winter-like weather is back in Switzerland, having swept across the country as March turned into April. 

Around 50cm of snow fell on parts of Switzerland over the past few days, bringing with it unseasonably cold temperatures to wipe out the springlike weather of late March.

READ MORE: Everything that changes in Switzerland in April 2022

Swiss meteorological service MeteoNews reported that the snowfall brought welcome relief, particularly in central and lower Valais, in parts of Ticino and in most of Graubünden, cutting the risks of forest fires. 

This week temperatures are expected to rise but only slightly, with MeteoNews forecasting between 7 and 10 degrees and rain through Tuesday.

Wednesday should be sunny and about 13 degrees, followed by changeable and windy weather in the second half of the week.

After that, temperatures should continue to increase, with 20 degrees forecast for much of the country from mid-April onwards. 

It is too early to forecast with certainty what the weather will be like over Easter, but we will keep you posted!

You can follow the forecast for your area here.