At one o'clock we alighted among some acacia trees at Waadi el Halboub, having gone twenty-one miles. We were here at once surprised and terrified by a sight surely one of the most magnificent in the world. In that vast expanse of desert, from W. to N. W. of us, we saw a number of prodigious pillars of sand at dif∣ferent distances, at times moving with great celerity, at others stalking on with a majestic slowness; at intervals we thought they were coming in a very few minutes to overwhelm us; and small quantities of sand did actually more than once reach us. Again they would retreat so as to be almost out of sight, their tops reaching to the very clouds. There the tops often separated from the bodies; and these, once disjoined, dispersed in the air, and did not appear more. Sometimes they were broken in the middle, as if struck with large cannon-shot. About noon they began to advance with considerable swiftness upon us, the wind being very strong at north. Eleven of them ranged along side of us about the distance of three miles. The greatest diameter of the largest appeared to me at that distance as if it would measure ten feet. They retired from us with a wind at S. E. leaving an impression upon my mind to which I can give no name, though surely one ingredient in it was fear, with a considerable deal of wonder and astonishment. It was in vain to think of flying; the swiftest horse, or fastest sailing ship, could be of no use to carry us out of this danger; and the full persuasion of this rivetted me as if to the spot where I stood.
The same appearance of moving pillars of sand presented themselves to us this day in form and disposition like those we had seen at Waadi Halboub, only they seemed to be more in number and less in size. They came several times in a direction close upon us, that is, I believe, within less than two miles. They began immediately after sun rise like a thick wood and almost darkened the sun. His rays shining through them for near an hour, gave them an appearance of pillars of fire. Our people now became desperate, the Greeks shrieked out and said it was the day of judgment; Ismael pronounced it to be hell; and the Turcorories, that the world was on fire.
Bruce's Travels, Vol. IV. p. 553,—555.
From this account it would appear, that the eddies of wind were owing to the long range of broken rocks, which bounded one side of the sandy desert, and bent the currents of air, which struck against their sides; and were thus like the eddies in a stream of water, which falls against oblique obstacles. This explanation is probably the true one, as these whirl-winds were not attended with rain or lightening like the tornadoes of the West-Indies.
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