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Simoom (Arabic: سموم samūm; from the root سم s-m-m, "to poison") is a strong, dry, dust-laden local wind that blows in the Sahara, Palestine, 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%.
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 goes:
Egypt is also subject, particularly during the spring and summer, to the hot wind called the "samoom," which is still more oppressive than the khamáseen 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.
The only ever recorded simoom wind in North America occurred on June 17, 1859 in Goleta, California and Santa Barbara, California. In the morning the temperature hovered around the normal 24°C(75°F) to 27°C(80°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, as luck would have it, 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 reduced to 50°C(122°F) and by 7pm the temperature was back to a normal 25°C(77°F). The US government report stated "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(134°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.
Edgar Allan Poe's short story MS. Found in a Bottle (1833) features a storm off the coast of Java, wherein "every appearance warranted me [the protagonist-narrator] in apprehending a Simoom."
In Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851) only the winds of a Simoom could blow Moby Dick in the path of the Pequod
In his 1854 novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens describes the oppressive midsummer heat of the sooty, smoky factories of Coketown, "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 Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (1897), Lucy, describing the appearance of Dracula in her room, writes in her journal entry on September 17 "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 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 Siouxsie and the Banshees. The album was Boomerang (1989, Geffen Records).
In keeping with its tradition of naming engines after winds, the Wright R-1200 of 1925 was called the Simoon.
In the film "The English Patient" 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."