London skies turn orange as Saharan dust cloud hits UK ahead of ‘hottest day of the year so far’

The dust cloud, which is about 2km above ground level, hit Sussex, Kent and London on Wednesday afternoon

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Saharan dust moving across Europe has hit the UK, turning the skies orange and red over southern parts of the country, forecasters have said.

It comes ahead of what is expected to be the hottest day of the year so far on Saturday, with temperatures set to reach up to 18C in some areas.

The dust cloud, which is about 2km above ground level, hit Sussex, Kent and London on Wednesday afternoon.

A Saharan dust cloud seen from Waterloo Bridge in London. It comes as parts of southern Spain have been blanketed following a thick plume which has turned skies orange, with satellite images clearly showing the dust over France. Picture date: Wednesday March 16, 2022.
A Saharan dust cloud seen from Waterloo Bridge in London. It comes as parts of southern Spain have been blanketed following a thick plume which has turned skies orange, with satellite images clearly showing the dust over France. Picture date: Wednesday March 16, 2022.

The overall impact is “unlikely” to be significant but people in affected areas will be able to see a “red or orange tinge” to the sky, forecasters said.

Met Office meteorologist, Dan Stroud, explained the colours were caused by Rayleigh scattering from additional particles in the air.

Saharan dust on a bin, as the dust cloud which is moving across Europe hit the UK, turning the skies orange and red over southern parts of the country, forecasters have said. Picture date: Wednesday March 16, 2022.
Saharan dust on a bin, as the dust cloud which is moving across Europe hit the UK, turning the skies orange and red over southern parts of the country, forecasters have said. Picture date: Wednesday March 16, 2022.

“The dust in the atmosphere causes the light to be more refracted, so you get the dominance of the red and orange tinges of the spectrum,” he said.

It comes as a plume, named Storm Celia in other countries, sweeps across Europe from the Sahara Desert, blanketing parts of southern Spain and France.

Mr Stroud said the dust is likely to be washed out of the air by an area of cloud and rain pushing eastwards across the West Country on Wednesday evening.

But high pressure building behind the wet weather over the course of the weekend is likely to see southern areas of England treated to a warm spring Saturday.

“We are likely to see some very pleasant spring sunshine, especially for the London and southeast area, during the course of the Saturday,” Mr Stroud said.

“We’re looking at temperatures of up to 16, 17, and perhaps even a rounded 18C could be possible.”

Saharan dust on a car windscreen, as the dust cloud which is moving across Europe hit the UK, turning the skies orange and red over southern parts of the country, forecasters have said. Issue date: Wednesday March 16, 2022.
Saharan dust on a car windscreen, as the dust cloud which is moving across Europe hit the UK, turning the skies orange and red over southern parts of the country, forecasters have said. Issue date: Wednesday March 16, 2022.

The Met Office told PA the warmest temperature it had recorded so far in 2022 was 17.2C in Pershore, Worcestershire, meaning Saturday could become the warmest day of the year yet.

Rain in England will begin to clear later on Wednesday as many regions turn cold, with patchy frost and some rural mist, the Met Office has said.

Thursday is expected to be sunnier for most of England and Wales, with some wind and showers in the southeast.

Showers, frost and fog are likely to continue hitting some parts of the UK up until Friday.