The sky over London was an unusual shade of red on Monday, many compared it to Blade Runner, the fictional Star Wars planet of Tatooine or even the apocalypse. Some also believed it was caused by excessive pollution, similar to the London Fog of 1952. In actuality, the red haze that blocked the sun over the city was caused by African dust and the imposing Storm Ophelia.
Ophelia, a significant, extra-tropical cyclone brought high winds and destructive seas to Ireland this week; it also unleashed gusty southerly winds that brought a sheet of Saharan dust from the West Coast of African to Western Europe and into Britain.
Saharan dust tends to travel far and wide, mostly affecting the Atlantic tropics during the summer, reaching as far as the United States and even the Amazon River.
Importantly, this dust is beneficial to crops and vegetation, as it contains heaps of phosphorus and nutrients. A NASA analysis found that violent wind and weather picks up and dumps 689,290 semi-trucks worth of dust each year.
The red color seen over London was caused by the movement of dust in the atmosphere, which scattered the blue light from the sun, giving the sky a scarlet hue, similar to a stunning sunset or sunrise. The Met Office also stated that the “vast majority” of the dust was the result of forest fires in Iberia, which sent particles into the air and was then scooped up by the storm.
The effect didn’t last long and quickly abated as Ophelia continues moving northeast, away from the United Kingdom.
Many people on social media shared pictures of the event, which incited a few hilarious anecdotes.
My mate just came out of an afternoon showing of Blade Runner to this sky. Imagine the state of him.— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) October 16, 2017
Devastation caused by Ophelia
Aside from creating science fiction skies, Ophelia is also causing severe devastation and travel disruptions. Three people have already died in Ireland, with Scotland now bearing the brunt of the storm, which brings with it winds of 70mph and flood warnings. In Ireland, 250,000 homes and businesses are without power, and thousands of fallen trees litter the roads, due to the 100mph winds accompanying the storm when it hit the emerald isle this week.
The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, described Ophelia’s impact as a “national emergency” that forced the closure of schools and colleges and brought the transport network to a standstill on Monday.
Not only did the storm cause a strange sky and mass devastation it also plunged parts of the North East into darkness during the day, as it brought with it a gathering of black and dense cloud cover, blocking the sun from areas like Newcastle.
Ophelia comes precisely 30 years after The Great Storm of 1987 which ravaged many areas in the UK when it hit the country in mid-October that year. Winds reached 100mph, and 18 people perished in the onslaught.
Though it’s not all over yet, a health warning was just released stating that the dark and red ominous skies could return later this week.