Dust is on the way to the United States this week making the more than 6,000-mile journey from the Sahara Desert.
This might seem like a rare event, but dust in the United States from the Sahara happens every year. This year the dust is the densest it’s been in about 50 years and therefore travels farther and is more noticeable.
How it is happening:
According to NASA, extreme daytime heating in the Saharan Desert creates instability in the lowest level of the atmosphere. The instability is what lifts the air and the very light dust particles higher up into the atmosphere, into what’s referred as the Saharan Air Layer. This very warm, dry air mass is picked up by strong trade winds. It moves off the coast of Africa and over the tropical North Atlantic every three to five days. The difference in temperature between the Saharan Air Layer and the Atlantic Ocean is what prevents mixing and keeps the dust plumes intact.
Millions of tiny individual dust particles combine to make a large plume so big that it can be picked up on satellite images and even be seen from the International Space Station.
The massive plume darkened the sky over parts of the Caribbean this past weekend and is reaching the Southern United States this week.
“This is the most significant event in the past 50 years,” said Pablo Méndez Lázaro, an environmental health specialist with the University of Puerto Rico. “Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands.”
Impacts to CNY:
The dust particles from the Sahara will begin impacting the United States this week and some particles could move as far north as CNY this weekend. As of Wednesday (June 24), the dusty air in the Caribbean is expected to move northward with the help of the jet stream. We won’t see the significant, hazardous impacts that the Caribbean is experiencing, but if the sky is clear enough during sunrise/sunset times we could see some vibrant scenes. Although more apparent in the southern states, you may also notice a bit of a hazy or milky sky during the day.
Dust & sunsets:
The massive dust storm will make for some eye-popping sunsets.
The colors that we see at sunrise and sunset are created by light scattering. The scattered sunlight is enhanced by water particles or pollutants, like dust, in the atmosphere.
When more dust is present, there are more particles in the atmosphere for light to refract off of, and in return we’ll see more bright shades of red, orange, yellow and pink.
Dust & air quality:
While we are expecting to see some extra vivid sunrises & sunsets, it might be healthier for some people to admire them from inside.
Since dust is moving in, naturally it will lower our air quality, and can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Children, older adults can be especially susceptible to negative side effects along with anyone with preexisting conditions linked to heart disease, lung disease, allergies or asthma.
So, make sure that you are taking precautions like staying inside if you have a condition that would be worsened from the extra pollutants in the air.
Air quality across most of the Caribbean fell to record “hazardous” levels and experts who nicknamed the event the “Godzilla dust cloud” warned people to stay indoors and use air filters if they have one.
Saharan dust, storms & tropical weather:
Dust does not kill the development of storms like hurricanes, but it does suppress it.
The big reason for this is that it’s bringing in dry, desert air which is the opposite of the moisture-laden air needed to fuel a storm like a hurricane. As the dust and dry air moves over the Atlantic, it will make it more difficult for tropical storms to grow and develop into hurricanes.
While it could slow down thunderstorms and tropical storm development for now, it does not mean that it will have a lasting impact. The peak dustiest time of year from this phenomenon is late June through mid August.
The satellite loop below shows thunderstorm development among the dust in eastern Cuba on Tuesday, June 23.
Hurricane season sees its spike in early September after the dust has cleared. So, our already busy 2020 hurricane season is still expected to be very active after this break from the Saharan dust.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.