According to Encarta:

Harmattan: The Sahara is estimated to generate 300 million metric tons of airborne dust each year, 60 percent of the worldwide total. During the dry season wide areas south of the Sahara are affected by the harmattan, dust-laden winds originating in the desert. Typical episodes last for three to five days, with a dusty haze obliterating the Sun, lowering temperatures, and sometimes reducing visibility to a kilometer or less. The frequency and intensity of the harmattan varies; regions near the desert margins are often affected for 20 to 30 days per year. Dust originating over the Sahara also affects North Africa, southern Europe, and the Arabian Peninsula. The hot, dust-laden winds that occur in North Africa between February and June are known collectively as sirocco, and locally by a variety of names (for example, khamsin in Egypt).

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Now the article doesn't specifically mention West Africa, but the Harmattan, I'm told, is the explanation for why the sun is but a glowing orb in the sky, viewable by the naked eye. It's still plenty warm, of course, but the celestial haze takes some of the kick out of the sun's waves. It's strange to look up at midday to see the sun, a brightly glowing but sharply edged ball upon which you can almost allow your eye to rest a while. By late afternoon, it has turned pinkish orange and looks almost like a full moon, up early to catch some rays from the sun before it retires.


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