A large plume of dust from the Sahara Desert is enveloping the tropical North Atlantic and has the potential to reach the Sunshine State next week.
The billowing dust was wafting west from the east coast of Africa Thursday, reaching more than 1,500 miles into the open Atlantic. Forecast models indicate that the dust plume will travel through the Caribbean over the weekend, then could reach parts of Florida by Wednesday or Thursday.
Dust storms are not uncommon during the months of June and July, as trade winds kick up and drag tiny particles of dust and sand from the Sahara Desert and distribute them across the Atlantic. This dusty layer, known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), hinders the development of thunderstorms and tropical cyclones. The dust also helps to dry out the atmosphere and increase vertical wind shear, both of which provide an unfavorable environment for tropical systems to develop. Weather models are showing that the dusty layer of air could put a damper on the development of any storm systems in the tropics for at least two weeks.
The fine particles of dust in the atmosphere could provide spectacular sunsets across Florida and the Caribbean. The light refracts more at sunset and this will give off a deep red or orange color. During the day, if conditions are dry, the sky may appear hazed over, with an orange and brownish tinge possible. However, if rain occurs the precipitation will cleanse the air and there is a small chance that some of the dust could become trapped inside rain droplets which could lead to isolated patches of muddy rain.
The dust itself is harmless, however, it could increase the growth of oceanic bacteria and reduce air quality which may create respiratory problems for children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. This only occurs if concentrations of dust are high enough.
Floridians can take advantage of the brilliant sunrises and sunsets beginning next week as Saharan dust arrives from Africa and could persist around the region for several days.