Get ready for beautiful sunsets: Saharan dust heading to US by next week


Dust plume entering Atlantic Ocean June 17th 2020

Source: NOAA

A plume of dust from the Sahara Desert will travel across the Atlantic Ocean before heading into the Gulf of Mexico next week. 

The dust, composed of tiny particles of sand and minerals, will be transported by the wind into an atmosphere known as the Saharan Air Layer. 

The Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, forms over the Saharan Desert and is extremely hot and dry. As it moves over the Atlantic Ocean, it will overlay the cooler and humid airmass. The dry, hot air over the cool humid airmass will create an inversion or “lid” on the atmosphere and will limit any ongoing thunderstorm activity across the Atlantic. This combined with other atmospheric conditions will lead to suppressed hurricane activity.

While this may sound odd, it’s actually common to see dust travel from Africa into the Gulf of Mexico, especially during the months of June and July. According to NOAA, the plumes of dust seem to rapidly subside after mid-August, which is also why we see an uptick in tropical activity in August and September.

NASA is studying how the dust plumes lead to red tide in the Gulf of Mexico, according to WFLA. Mixed in with the dust is iron from the topsoil. The iron will end up in the Gulf and actually fertilizes the water, which can begin the process of a toxic algae bloom.

That happens every year and does not necessarily correlate with large red tide blooms. Research is still being conducted on this topic to potentially predict red tide in certain areas.

What can we expect here?

The arrival of the dust looks to be the middle of next week but could come as early as the end of the weekend. The dust particles are so small and the concentration will be so low that we will likely not notice much of a difference except for hazy skies and vivid sunrises and sunsets.

Unfortunately, one downside will be the dip in air quality. Those who suffer from upper respiratory issues such as allergies and asthma may become sensitive to the dust and should avoid prolonged outside exposure.

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