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Athens turns orange, Helsinki goes white as Europe’s weather springs a surprise

Costas Baltas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Dust from the Sahara Desert covers Athens in an orange haze on April 23, 2024.


A haze of yellow-orange dust from the Sahara Desert has blanketed parts of Greece, prompting authorities to issue health warnings and creating spectacular dreamlike scenes.

The Greek meteorological service said on Tuesday that weather conditions had favored the movement of dust from Africa, resulting in “increased concentrations in the atmosphere”, particularly in the south of the country.

However, the dust would gradually begin to subside on Wednesday morning, the service predicted, and from midday it would be “limited to the east”.

Videos and images shared online showed Athens residents watching the yellow-orange fog from hills near the Greek capital.

Others took evening walks around the city and shared the bright orange scenes on social media. One user posted that meteorologists said the bright orange dust made Athens look like “a colony from Mars.”

Cyprus, a country in the eastern Mediterranean, was also affected by the dust.

A low-pressure system over North Africa swept across Cyprus several times in mid-April, “darkening skies and reducing air quality,” NASA said Tuesday.

An image from NASA’s Terra satellite showed “a haze of tan” over Cyprus on April 22. The dust is expected to continue across the Mediterranean, affecting Cyprus and Greece over the coming days, NASA said.

Dust clouds moving from North Africa to Greece and other regions are a phenomenon that occurs occasionally, causing limited visibility and triggering warnings about respiratory risks.

Alessandro Rampazzo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

People cross a snow-covered train track in Helsinki, Finland, April 23, 2024, as an unusual weather system shut down the city’s trams.

“Abnormal” weather hits Finland

The strange appearance in southern Europe came as unusually heavy snowfall in the continent’s north for this time of year paralyzed public transport in southern Finland, the channel reported public YLE.

“Abnormal April weather” brought more than 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) of snow to some areas, blocking trams and delaying bus and metro services in the Finnish capital and causing cancellations and delays of flights at Helsinki Airport, YLE reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, police in the country’s southwest reported a dozen road accidents – but no serious injuries – and maintenance workers struggled to clear snow from power lines.

Although snowfall is not uncommon during the winter months in Finland, Johannes Laitila, press officer for Helsinki public transport operator HSL, told YLE that this weather was “unusual” for late April and urged travelers to allow more time for their trips.

Photos showed Helsinki residents walking through thick snow and ice, carrying umbrellas in heavy snowfall, and tall piles of snow piling up on sidewalks, cars and scooters.

Finnish airport operator Finavia said overnight freezing rain “which turns to ice almost immediately when it hits the ground” had fallen at Helsinki airport.

“As a result, de-icing of runways and aircraft wings must be carried out much more than usual for this time of year,” Finavia added.

HSL said on its website that all tram services in the city were canceled earlier on Tuesday but were gradually resuming from the afternoon.

Maintenance workers were clearing snow from the tram tracks, but struggled to remove ice from some overhead power lines because equipment used to apply glycol – an antifreeze chemical usually used for this purpose in winter – had been stored for summer.

“Unfortunately, the severity of the weather conditions surprised us,” Antti Vigelius, head of the maintenance unit of the city’s transportation organization, said in a press release, according to YLE.

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