The weather this week has been marked by extremes and fatalities. In Dubai, heavy wind and rain caused a crane to collapse, killing at least 107 people and injuring a further 238. It fell in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, causing heavy casualties. It could have been a lot worse though. Had this tragic event happened two weeks later, the mosque would have been full of pilgrims.   Natural disasters are a combination of severe weather and human activity, and they seem to be on the rise. It is never easy to tease out whether the increases reflect a pure increase in violent weather, or an increase in human activity. While it is something to think about, damaging weather has been rampant recently, with the disaster in Dubai being just the beginning.

 A massive dust storm, driven by winds of more than 97km/h (60 mph) has wreaked havoc in on lives and transportation in the Middle East, grounding flights and even closing ports due to poor visibility. The dust storm blanketed 7 states, including Syria, which is very rare. The intense dust storm, called a haboob has killed at least eight people and caused serious breathing problems for at least 3,580 others. This, despite the effort of police in the region handing out face masks. It is easy to suffer from asphyxiation once dust gets into the lungs. Our lungs are generally kept free from dust due to natural defenses, but if the volume of dust is great enough, it can and will interfere with alveoli, the lungs’ gas exchange cells.  This is why face masks are critically important, as they keep dust out of the lungs. For people who already have respiratory problems or heart problems, the situation is worse. They can suffer asphyxia far more easily than people with a normally functioning cardiovascular system. It’s a lot like smoke, but with bigger, arguably less toxic particles.   Also critical for survival once asphyxiation has taken hold, is pure oxygen. Some Middle Eastern hospitals have run out of oxygen canisters, putting a great number of people at risk. It is, however, likely that these oxygen tanks have been replenished.

In other news, drought has been spreading across Oklahoma, with about 15% of the state in moderate to severe drought. In the longer term, wet weather is expected, and it may stall or even reverse the drought, but this is certainly not a guarantee. As it stands, the drought affects about 200,000 people there, but it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

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