Most people associate the end of the year with Christmas, the holidays, travel, family and food – lots of food! However, this time of the year also comes with a change in the season. This depends entirely on the part of the world where you are. For some, it is a cold and white winter. However, if you happen to be anywhere in West Africa, what you should expect is called Harmattan.
So, what exactly is harmattan?
Harmattan is a season characterized by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. The name is related to the word haramata in the Twi language. Harmattan results in cold temperatures in most places and hot in others, depending on local circumstances.
What causes it?
The Harmattan blows during the dry season, which occurs during the lowest-sun months. In this season the subtropical ridge of high pressure stays over the central Sahara Desert and the low-pressure Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) stays over the Gulf of Guinea. On its passage over the Sahara, the harmattan picks up fine dust and sand particles (between 0.5 and 10 microns).
How long does it last?
It typically occurs between the end of November and middle of March. However, its severity varies from place to place depending on geographical location and other local conditions.
Effects of harmattan
This season is characterized by cold, dry, dust-laden wind, and also wide fluctuations in the ambient temperatures of the day and night. Temperatures can easily be as high as 9 °C (48 °F) all day, but sometimes in the afternoon the temperature can also soar to as high as 30 °C (86 °F), while the relative humidity drops under 5%.
The air is particularly dry and desiccating when the Harmattan blows over the region. The Harmattan brings desert-like weather conditions: it lowers the humidity, dissipates cloud cover, prevents rainfall formation and sometimes creates big clouds of dust which can result in dust storms or sandstorms. The wind can increase fire risk and cause severe crop damage. The interaction of the Harmattan with monsoon winds can cause tornadoes.
Therefore, in order to help us stay healthy throughout the season, here are some HARMATTAN READY tips:
- Stay hydrated
As a result of the dryness, it is normal to quickly become dehydrated. So, it is important to drink a lot of water during this period. Don’t get carried away with the festivities or stick to carbonated drink and juices. Water is essential to keep your body healthy.
- Adjust outfits
Harmattan is one of those tricky seasons where if you find yourself wrongly dressed at a particular time, you will find yourself very uncomfortable and stand the risk of falling sick. Since the weather usually gets very cold at night, it is important to put on warm clothing from evening to morning. As the day gets warmer, you can change to lighter clothing or shed some layers.
- Take vitamin C
For many, this season is synonymous with the common cold, catarrh and cough. In order to guard your body, take a good dose pf vitamin C to help combat the negative effects of the cold and dust. Hot tea with lemon, honey, ginger and or garlic is also popular and helpful.
At this time of the year, your regular moisturizer is unlikely to be enough to guard your skin. To avoid dryness, combine with the use of petroleum jelly, baby oil or shea butter. Glycerin and rose water are also helpful. It is usually more effective when you use these products soon after shower while your skin is still wet or damp. Remember, a lip balm should be one of your closest pals during this season.
- Be careful with fires
This is not the season to play with fire as they tend to get aggravated. Avoid burning indiscriminately especially around dry bushes. If you have to burn anything, make sure it is attended and well monitored. Most fire accidents happen in this season because everywhere is dry and the fire can travel easily without restrictions.
- Avoid dusty areas
For asthmatic patients, the dusty winds of harmattan can trigger attacks. This is why they should stay away from dusty areas and have their inhalers on them at all times. Wearing a nose/face mask is recommended during this period when cleaning, travelling along dusty roads or coming in contact with dust. People with allergies, pneumonia and bronchitis should take extra precaution at all times.
- Wear protective hairstyles
For Nigerian females who mostly have 4c hair, harmattan can be terrible for the tips. It can cause dry tips and hair breakage. Wear hairstyles that keep your ends hidden such as braids, tie scarves and keep hair well moisturized.
- Avoid flying
Flights tend to get cancelled or rescheduled a lot during harmattan due to intense haze. Besides, the airports are usually jam-packed and travel costs soar as people travel a lot for the holidays. Avoid flying if you don’t need the hassle and choose alternative means of transport instead.
- Enjoy hot meals
This is the perfect season for hot soups and beverages like cocoa and coffee. They help to warm you up and prevent harmful bacteria and virus from thriving in your belly.