SHAFAQNA – ‘Blood rain’ will fall on Britain this weekend staining cars and pavements a rusty brown as red dust blows in from the Sahara desert.
Parts of the UK are facing soaring levels of air pollution as African dust mingles with city pollution, prompting health officials to issue warnings to vulnerable people.
Much of the South East and eastern England will see high levels of pollution, although the problem is expected to be short-lived, with Atlantic winds dispersing the murky air by Saturday, the Environment Department (Defra) said.
“Blood rain” is the term used when rain mixes with sand from deserts. Storms in the Sahara desert whip up sand into a fine dust which is carried for more than 2,000 miles to Britain.
When the rain falls it looks a reddish colour and when it dries it leaves a thin layer of dust capable of coating houses, cars and garden furniture.
Although it is more common in Spain and the South of France, it has been known to travel longer distances and fall in areas like Scandinavia. In some parts of India the colour has been vibrant enough to stain clothing.
Met Office forecaster Dan Williams said: “People could find yellow or brown dust from the Sahara on their cars on Saturday morning.”
In ancient times ‘blood rain’ was believed to be actual blood and considered a bad omen, heralding death and destruction. It is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s tales of King Arthur.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that in 685, “there was a bloody rain in Britain. And milk and butter were turned to blood. And Lothere, king of Kent, died”
The historian William of Newburgh also claimed that Richard the Lionheart was caught in a shower of ‘blood rain’.
MeteoGroup forecaster Mario Cuellar added: “Spain saw ‘blood rain’ on Wednesday as the Saharan dust moved north.”
“Some of this dust currently in the UK’s polluted air could be found on cars after rain on Friday night.”
Health officials have issued a warning about the high level of pollution in Britain in the coming days. Adults and children with lung or heart problems, and older people have been advised to avoid strenuous activity.
People are also advised to reduce physical exertion, particularly outside, and asthma sufferers were warned that they may need to use their inhaler more frequently.
Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, head of the air pollution and climate change group at Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards said: “While most people will not be affected by short term peaks in air pollution, some individuals, particularly those with existing heart or lung conditions, may experience increased symptoms.”
She added asthma sufferers and older people should “reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors”.
A Defra spokeswoman said: “Locally generated air pollution, combined with pollution from the continent and Saharan dust, could cause high or very high levels on Friday.
“This is expected to clear on Saturday and pollution levels will return to low throughout the morning.”
Temperatures on Friday are expected to 72F (22C) which is due to be the hottest day since last year’s Halloween heatwave saw conditions peak at 73F (23.6C) on October 31.
In fact, conditions on Friday could nudge the record for the hottest ever April 10, 73F (23.3C) which was set in Devon in 1909.
The high temperatures have already sparked dozens of blazes including a two square mile grass fire in Darwen, Lancashire and a 20-acre grass fire in Cheddar, Somerset.
However the hot and humid conditions will break overnight with rain and windy conditions in the North.
Temperatures will plummet on Saturday to usual conditions for mid-April. The Met Office forecast 46F (8C) highs in Scotland, 50F (10C) in the Midlands and 59F (15C) in the South-East.
Forecaster Brian Gaze of The Weather Outlook said: “Decent summer weather will be followed by weekend rain – typical.”
Two inches of snow is expected at Scottish ski resorts on Saturday and wind gusts will nudge a gale-force 40mph in the West, 45mph in the North and 50mph in Scotland.
Dan Williams from the Met Office added: “Saturday will see temperatures drop and breezes increase, feeling noticeably added with windchill and more cloud.
“Sunday’s showers will turn wintry on higher ground in Scotland, where weekend gales are expected in exposed parts.”