Tropical Tracker: Saharan dust has moved over Florida — What this means for hurricane season

Saharan Dust – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Daineko Natalia

Sunsets across the Sunshine State could become even more captivating in the coming days as clouds of dust from the Sahara Desert come in from across the Atlantic. 

The tropics remain active with storms Henri and Grace churning in both the Atlantic and Caribbean. Florida is in the clear of both storms, other than a high rip current risk from Henri this past weekend. Fred marks the second landfall in Florida this season, following Elsa who made landfall as a tropical storm in Taylor County.

After Fred, things should slow down tropical-wise for Florida. A fresh plume of Saharan dust has migrated thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean and is making its way toward the Sunshine State. This massive plume should help keep the tropics calm.

The dust is headed our way thanks to a strong area of high pressure across the Atlantic. Currently, there is another batch moving off the west coast of Africa. While this is a positive in hindering tropical development short-term, the steering current can give us an insight into what’s to come later in the season.

This same flow could indicate that tropical storm systems would steer in the same direction as the dust plume and come incredibly close to the U.S. Long-range models have shown that a higher-than-normal pressure may build in southern Canada and the northeast U.S., which could eventually turn storms toward the Florida Peninsula or Southeast U.S.

Simply put, Saharan dust is an annual phenomenon that occurs when winds over Africa pick up millions of tons of dust and blow them across the Atlantic. It is most common from June through August. According to Nasa, not only does the dust help to fertilize water and soil, but it also contributes to changes in the atmosphere.

The Saharan Air Layer is a dry air mass consisting of several tiny particles of dirt, sand, and dust that comes from the Saharan Desert in Africa. From late spring to early fall, African waves pushing westward into the tropical Atlantic ocean lift the particles every three to five days.

The Saharan Air Layer is heavily associated with strong bursts of wind and extends between 5,000 and 20,000 feet into the atmosphere. It is studied via satellite images as it makes its journey across the Atlantic ocean.

If the dust is concentrated enough, it can cause very poor air quality for sensitive groups. This can lead to enhanced allergy symptoms and discomfort. On a more positive note, it can also cause extremely vivid sunrises and sunsets with more particles scattered in the atmosphere, all while helping bring hurricanes to a stop.

“Dry winds carrying the particles could help smother storm systems by drying out the humid tropical air that feeds turbulent weather across a well-traveled route for hurricanes,”  experts say.

The peak of hurricane season is Sept. 10.

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