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The season’s first plume of Saharan dust is heading towards the Gulf

Dust will arrive in the Gulf of Mexico this Weekend
Dust will arrive in the Gulf of Mexico this Weekend(KNOE)
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:27 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - The season’s first plume of Saharan dust is heading towards the Gulf. It will travel 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving along the Gulf Coast by this weekend.

The Saharan dust is a yearly occurrence. The dust plumes form over the Sahara Desert during the late spring, summer, and early fall and eventually moves out into the Atlantic every three to five days. NOAA says the dust plume is usually 2 to 2.5 miles thick, with its base situated about 1 mile above the Earth’s surface. Typically its activity ramps up in mid-June and peaks from late June to mid-August.

Current location of the Saharan dust plume
Current location of the Saharan dust plume(KNOE)

According to NOAA, this phenomenon occurs when “ripples in the low-to-middle atmosphere, called tropical waves, track along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and loft vast amounts of dust into the atmosphere.” The Jet stream winds can transport the 180 million tons of dust 5,000 miles from Africa to the United States.

You might notice the sky looking a little more hazy by the beginning of next week and this is all thanks to dust aerosols in the upper atmosphere that originated from the Sahara desert. It will also lead to some beautiful sunrises and sunsets as the dust particles in our air will scatter the sun’s light in a way that creates more intense colors.

Saharan dust can cause more vibrant sunrises and sunsets
Saharan dust can cause more vibrant sunrises and sunsets(KNOE)

The dust will actually help bring beneficial nutrients to our soil. The Saharan dust is packed full of minerals like iron and phosphorus. As the dust moves across the ocean, it helps to fertilize ocean plant life along the way. It then reaches land and does the same thing for plant life, especially for the Amazon Rainforest.

Main impacts we see from Saharan Dust
Main impacts we see from Saharan Dust(KNOE)

The good thing about the Saharah dust is that it will help to keep the atmosphere less favorable for any storms to develop off the coast of Africa.  The Saharan dust layer is very dry, the opposite of what a tropical cyclone needs to form. In fact, the Saharan Air Layer has about 50% less moisture than the typical tropical atmosphere. Strong winds are associated with the Saharan dust plume. These winds can significantly increase the vertical wind shear (the change in wind speed and/or direction with height) which creates a hostile, unfavorable environment for the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes.

No tropical activity is expected in the Atlantic for the next 5 days. Thanks Saharan Dust!
No tropical activity is expected in the Atlantic for the next 5 days. Thanks Saharan Dust!(NOAA)

One downside is that this will affect our air quality. For those sensitive to dust allergies or asthma, it will bring tough breathing conditions as particles can fall near the surface. Overall we might be at a Moderate Level for our air quality starting next week.

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