What's a chamsin?

Not a chamsin-- this is the view from Gan haS'laim, a few weeks ago

I come from Western Pennsylvania, so I'm used to bizarre weather. (I never quite understood the lyric "rain on a sunny day," because in Pittsburgh it was so normal for it to be sunny and raining at once.) We had hail, sleet, snow, sun, rainbows, the occasional tornado, what have you.

But Israel gets one weather pattern we didn't-- the chamsin. The encylcopedia at thefreedictionary.com has this definition:

A Khamaseen is a cyclonic type wind that is common in Egypt and Sudan towards the end of March and April of each year. Hot weather ensues, as well as sandstorms. According to the Turkish Calendar of Storms it is a storm of three days, to be expected around February 1. It is an oppressive, hot, dusty, south or south-east wind occurring in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant, intermittently in late winter through late spring. The name is derived from the Arabic for 'fifty', khamsun.
We're experiencing a small chamsin today, which means that it is suddenly in the upper 20s (that's the 80s for you Fahrenheit people) and a warm, dusty breeze is flowing in through my window. (I just noticed that the tree in my yard has leaves now, by the way-- when did that happen? I haven't figured out how or when trees in this climate lose or grow leaves.) Chamsins tend to last a few days, although it is supposed to cool down and possibly rain before Pesach. I just checked our weather report, and sure enough, the wind today is coming from the south, while the wind tomorrow is northwesterly.

It's kind of incredible to me that the breeze through my window could be blowing in from, say, Sudan (directly south of here). We share weather with countries I can't visit with my Israeli passport-- the puffy clouds over the Gan haS'laim might have drifted over from Syria to Israel, the drops of rain might have evaporated in Iraq. I have a friend in grad school 120 kilometers north in Beirut, and while I can't visit him, we probably are both feeling the same warm breeze from the south this morning.

Crazy world.


  1. Here we have a saying "If you don't like the weather, stick around -- it'll change in 15 minutes!"

    For instance, on Saturday it was in the mid-70's and sunny. My neighbor mowed his grass and I led about a dozen cub scouts on a 2 hour hike through a local woods. On Sunday, the temperature was down in the upper-40's and we had torrential rains during the afternoon. This morning, I awoke to a temperature of 30 degrees outside and a blanket of snow on the ground...

    At this rate, I figure by Thursday the coeds will be sunbathing on campus.

    Keep up the great blog,

    P.S. -- Cyclonic wind? That sounds like a tornado to someone living in the Midwest (US)!

  2. I think by "cyclonic wind" they mean that it circulates and eventually changes direction? (Which could be why the wind tomorrow is from the North.) I don't think we get tornadoes here at all!

    Your weather sounds a lot like Pittsburgh. Aside from chamsins, the weather in Israel doesn't change a lot from day to day or moment to moment-- what we see in the morning is usually what we get all day.

  3. We do get tornadoes in Israel! We got an F0 in the Galil a few years ago. It was on CNN.
    (which tells you exactly how MANY Tornadeos we get, but that's a different story...)


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