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Khamsin in Egypt during the year 2007

Khamsin, khamseen, chamsin or hamsin (Arabic: خمسين khamsīn, "fifty"), also known as khamaseen (Arabic: خماسين khamāsīn, "fifties") refers to a dry, hot and dusty local wind blowing in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Similar winds in the area are sirocco and simoom.

Khamsin can be triggered by depressions that move eastwards along the southern parts of the Mediterranean or along the North African coast from February to June.[1]

In Egypt, khamsin usually arrives in April but occasionally occur in March and May, carrying great quantities of sand and dust from the deserts, with a speed up to 140 kilometers per hour, and a rise of temperatures as much as 20°C in two hours.[2] It is believed to blow "at intervals for about 50 days",[3] although it rarely occurs "more than once a week and last for just a few hours at a time."[4] A 19th-century account of khamsin in Egypt goes:

These winds, though they seldom cause the thermometer of Fahrenheit to rise above 95° in Lower Egypt, or in Upper Egypt 105°, are dreadfully oppressive, even to the natives. When the plague visits Egypt, it is generally in the spring; and the disease is most severe in the period of the khamáseen.[5]

The same account relates that Muslims in Egypt "calculate the period of khamáseen ... to commence on the day immediately following the Coptic festival of Easter Sunday, and to terminate on the Day of Pentecost (or Whitsunday); an interval of forty-nine days."[6]

During Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign, the French soldiers had a hard time with khamsin: when the storm appeared "as a blood-stint in the distant sky", the natives went to take cover, while the French "did not react until it was too late, then choked and fainted in the blinding, suffocating walls of dust."[7] During the North African Campaign of the World War II, "allied and German troops were several times forced to halt in mid-battle because of sandstorms caused by khamsin ... Grains of sand whirled by the wind blinded the soldiers and created electrical disturbances that rendered compasses useless."[8]

In Israel, khamsin (Hebrew: חמסין‎) is known more formally as sharav (שרב), and the Biblical term for khamsin is ruah qadīm (רוח קדים) or "east wind". [9] In Israel, the word khamsin carries political connotations. It was the name of a magazine published during the 1970s and 1980s by a group of Middle East exiles in Europe, including members of Matzpen.[10] It was also the title of a 1982 Israeli film about a clash between a Jewish landowner and his Arab workers in a small farming village in the Galilee.[11] The film was selected by the Israeli Film Board as their nominee for the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 1983.[12]

"The Alexandria Quartet" by Lawrence Durrell also has a vivid description of the Khamsin.

Khamsin is the name of the third movement of the title composition Warm Winds, side one of the record album Warm Winds, recorded by the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet in the 1950's. The suite in four movements was written by Lyle "Spud" Murphy. On liner notes, the composer wrote the following about the movement:

"This is not just a warm wind, but a dust-laden, suffocatingly hot wind! It blows in the desert regions of certain Arab-populated countries. Khamsin is the Arabic word for "fifty" and it is quite appropriate since this far from friendly wind blows for fifty days and during it's "occupation" of the area all activity ceases and there is no outward sign of life. The natives merely remain inside their dwellings and resign themselves to waiting for Khamsin to use up the allotted time. It should be evident that the denizens of such a region have all learned how to count up to half a hundred...The music itself has a sort of lonely quality which is intended to portray the hopelessness of a situation that can only be met by perseverance and a determination to outlast the ever present Khamsin."


  1. ^ Giles O.B.E, Bill. "The Khamsin". Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  2. ^ "Egypt Climate and Weather". Tour Egypt. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  3. ^ OED online.
  4. ^ Humphreys, Andrew (2002). Cairo. Victoria: Lonely Planet. P. 19.
  5. ^ Lane, Edward William (1973 [1860]). An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. With a new introduction by John Manchip White. New York: Dover Publications. P. 2.
  6. ^ Lane, p. 488.
  7. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2007). Mirage. New York: Harper. P. 135.
  8. ^ DeBlieu, Jan (1998). Wind. New York: Houghton Mifflin. P. 57.
  9. ^ Philologos (April 4, 2003). "Fifty Days and Fifty Nights". Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  10. ^ "Khamsin". Matzpen. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  11. ^ Kronish, Amy. "Arabs on Israeli Screens". Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  12. ^ "Oscar Film Critical of Israel". New York Times. January 24, 1983. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

KHAMSIN (Arabic for "fifty"), hot oppressive wind arising in the Sahara. It blows in Egypt at intervals for about fifty days during March, April and May, and fills the air with sand. In Guinea the wind from the Sahara is known as harmattan.

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