Simoom (Arabic: سموم samūm; from the root س م م s-m-m, سم "to poison") is a strong, dry, dust-laden local wind that blows in the Sahara, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the deserts of Arabian Peninsula. Alternative spellings include samiel, sameyel, samoon, samun, simoun, and simoon. Its temperature may exceed 54 °C (129 °F) and the humidity may fall below 10%. Simoom winds have an alternative type occurring in the region of Central Asia known as "Garmsil" (гармсель).
The storm moves in cyclone (circular) form, carrying clouds of dust and sand, and produces on humans and animals a suffocating effect. The name means "poison wind" and is given because the sudden onset of simoom may also cause heat stroke. This is attributed to the fact that the hot wind brings more heat to the body than can be disposed of by the evaporation of perspiration.
A 19th-century account of simoom in Egypt reads:
Egypt is also subject, particularly during the spring and summer, to the hot wind called the "samoom," which is still more oppressive than the khamasin winds, but of much shorter duration, seldom lasting longer than a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. It generally proceeds from the south-east or south-south-east, and carries with it clouds of dust and sand.
In North America
The only ever recorded simoom wind in North America occurred on June 17, 1859 in Goleta and Santa Barbara, California. During the morning, the temperature hovered around the normal 24 to 27 °C (75 to 81 °F), but around 1PM strong super hot winds filled with dust began to blow from the direction of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north. By 2PM, the temperature reached 56 °C (133 °F). This temperature was recorded by an official US coastal survey vessel that was operating in the waters just offshore, in the Santa Barbara Channel. At 5PM, the temperature had dropped to 50 °C (122 °F), and by 7PM, the temperature was back to a normal 25 °C (77 °F). The US government report stated that "Calves, rabbits and cattle died on their feet. Fruit fell from trees to the ground scorched on the windward side; all vegetable gardens were ruined. A fisherman in a rowboat made it to the Goleta Sandspit with his face and arms blistered as if he had been exposed to a blast furnace."
Luckily, local inhabitants were saved from the heat by seeking shelter in the thick adobe walled houses that were the standard construction at the time.
This remained the highest ever recorded temperature in the United States for 75 years until the U.S. Weather Bureau recorded a temperature of 56.6 °C (133.9 °F) in Death Valley, California.
Although this event is considered a simoom, due to the unusually long time for which the temperature remained extremely high, coupled with the fact that it was in part generated due to hot air passing over the top of the mountain ridge from the normally much hotter, drier interior valley and becoming super-heated as it descended to the higher pressures found at sea level, it may not entirely fit into the definition of a Saharan simoom.
Figurative use of the word
In the political essay "Chartism," Thomas Carlyle argues that even the poorest of men who have resigned themselves to misery and toil cannot resign themselves to injustice because they retain an innate sense that a higher (divine) justice must govern the world: "Force itself, the hopelessness of resistance, has doubtless a composing effect against inanimate Simooms, and much other infliction of the like sort, we have found it suffice to produce complete composure. Yet one would say a permanent Injustice even from an Infinite Power would prove unendurable by men."
Walden (1854), by Henry David Thoreau, references a simoom; he uses it to describe his urge to escape something most unwanted. "There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me—some of its virus mingled with my blood. No—in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way."
In his 1854 novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens in describing the oppressive midsummer heat of the sooty, smoky factories of Coketown, writes, "The atmosphere of those Fairy palaces was like the breath of the simoom; and their inhabitants, wasting with heat, toiled languidly in the desert" (book 2, chapter 1). In American Notes Dickens also describes "that injurious [political] Party Spirit" as "the Simoom of America, sickening and blighting everything of wholesome life within its reach." (p. 93 in the 1913 Chapman & Hall, Ltd. edition, online from Project Gutenberg).
In Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (1897), Lucy, describing the appearance of Dracula in her room, writes in her journal entry on September 17 that "a whole myriad of little specks seemed to come blowing in through the broken window, and wheeling and circling round like the pillar of dust that travellers describe when there is a simoom in the desert."
In Sinclair Lewis' novel Main Street (1920), there is a reference to "Aunt Bessie's simoom of questioning."
In Making a President (1932), H. L. Mencken refers to "a veritable simoon of hiccups."
In Patrick O'Brian's novel Post Captain (1972), Diana Villiers' mentally troubled cousin, Edward Lowndes, upon learning that Doctor Maturin is a naval surgeon, remarks, "Very good—you are upon the sea but not in it: you are not an advocate for cold baths. The sea, the sea! Where should we be without it? Frizzled to a mere toast, sir; parched, desiccated by the simoom, the dread simoom."
There is a song "Simoom" by The Creatures, who are Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie of the former band Siouxsie and the Banshees. The song was on the album Boomerang (1989, Geffen Records). Another song titled "Simoon" features on the Yellow Magic Orchestra's epoymously titled album that was released in 1978.
In keeping with its tradition of naming its aircraft engines after winds, the Wright Aeronautical R-1200 of 1925 was called the Simoon.
In the film The English Patient (1996) there is a scene in which Count László Almásy regales Katharine Clifton with histories of named winds, one of them being the "Simoon." Alluding to the records of Herodotus, Almásy tells Katharine that there was once a certain Arabic people who deemed the "Simoon" so evil that they marched out to meet it ranked as an army, "their swords raised."
In the collectible card game Magic: the Gathering, card named "Simoon" first appeared in the Visions expansion set on a fictional continent of Jamuraa. This card saw play in the sideboard of contemporary Type II decks and was especially effective against the popular Five Colours Green decks that heavily relied on small creatures with toughness of 1.
- Lane, Edward William (1973 ). 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.
- Tompkins, Walker A. (1966). Goleta - The Good Land. Goleta Am-Vets Post No. 55, 1966; Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 66-23873. P. 57-58.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.