Is there really winter in Lagos? Staying healthy in the 'brown' winter

Posted Saturday, 17 January 2015

Ever heard it said that there is only one season in Nigeria? That it’s just hot, hot, hot all year round?

The seasons may look vastly different from those we learn about in books or experience abroad- Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring- but don’t get it wrong. There are two distinct seasons south of the equator and cold can be an important feature of each.

It’s Harmattan season in Lagos right now which means the rain is out of season and heat- yes, more heat is setting in. Harmattan is a dry and dusty wind that comes from the Sahara Desert and blows hot and cold over Western Africa. It begins lightly in late November, grows strong in December and January and cools off in early March.

So you’re forgiven for thinking this is pretty safe territory in terms of cold and flu season.  In fact, you might even count yourself lucky for living south of the Sahara compared to our northern compatriots who are suffering in minus degree temperatures abroad.

But Harmattan as a season shows an interesting mix of both hot and cold. At its most severe, it can give the feel of a Winter season experienced in the temperate regions. Winter, in its white colour is characterised by cold and snow, while Harmattan in its brown colour, by cold and dust. So, yes, Harmattan can be loosely called ‘The Brown Winter’.

Wearing thick clothes like cardigans and sweaters on top of lighter ones will help keep you warm and prevent colds and pneumonia that may result from cold. And these thick clothes can be removed when the temperature increases and the heat becomes uncomfortable during the day.

But wait, you haven’t completely escaped the downfalls of the typically cold and flu-season of the north. The Harmattan wind carries with it dust and fine particles that form a cloudy haze (especially early in the morning), which settles on our cars, roofs, roads, furniture and virtually every surface making everywhere look dusty and brown.

In fact, the amount of dust and the chilly weather can cause respiratory infections so coughs and colds can be common in this season. And this same reason makes the season a dangerous one for asthmatic patients.

Are you thinking, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for?! I live in Africa for goodness sake!’ Well, although Harmattan is usually typified by hot weather, the early hours of the days are typically cold or very cold and the afternoons are hot with high temperatures that decrease towards the evenings, and the evenings grow into cold nights. These harsh conditions of Harmattan cause skin to dry and lips to crack, even trees and streams are not spare. Using Vaseline or oil-rich creams and lip gloss can prevent dried skin and cracked lips.

So don’t throw away those cardigans from last year’s skiing holiday just yet. Stay safe and healthy this season. Make sure you turn down your ac’s at night, or, better yet, turn them off completely. Practice good hygiene, cover up and frequent your pharmacy if you’re feeling the onset of a cold.

Harmattan is just another word for Nigeria’s winter. So don’t delude yourselves that it’s hot 24/7 365 days of the year because you may be in for a little surprise….

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