Such storms cause a considerable spike in air pollution and therefore are a considerable health hazard to the area's residents – people and animals alike.
When such storms blanket the area, the Health Ministry issues an advisory urging anyone suffering from respiratory diseases, pregnant women, young children and the elderly to stay inside and refrain from opening their windows if possible.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University are conducting an on-going, two-phase study on the effects of the dust storms, which are caused mostly when cold fronts cross the area, BGU's Dr. Itzhak Katra, of the Geography and Environmental Development Department, explained.
Sand storm on Arava Highway (Archives)
The first phase of BGU's study, which has already been complete, explored the escalating patterns of dust storms over the past 10 years.
The second phase of the study, which is on-going, explores the nature of outdoor and indoor dust particulate matter in the homes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, Katra explained.
As part of the study, researchers catalogued patients at Soroka University Medical Center between 2001 and 2010 with a primary diagnosis of COPD.
Across the entire decade, Soroka noted 7,582 admissions for 147 patients with COPD, averaging 68 years in age. The study found that 63.6% of the patients were men, 22.6% suffered from diabetes and 5.4% had a heart disease.
The researchers found that admission rates were up during the winter, when more dust storms take place. Also, the older the COPD patients, the more times they needed to be admitted.
Researchers have yet to determine how to advise their patients to better weather dust storms, but according to Dr. Victor Novack, head of the Soroka Clinical Research Center, the Beersheba community provides them “a frontier environmental lab for climate change.”
The greater Beersheba area sees sand and dust storms about 10% of the year, and particulate matter levels become extremely high on these days, both inside homes and outside, he noted.