An “abnormally large dust cloud” from the Sahara desert in Africa is en-route to the east coast of the United States and the Caribbean right now and is expected to land on the Gulf Coast between Tuesday and Thursday.
Although large dust clouds are common this time of year, this one has caught the attention of meteorologists due to its abnormally large size. It was caused by strong updrafts in the Sahara picking up dust, which is then taken by easterly winds over the Atlantic. If the trade winds are just right (as they are now), the dust can make it over to the Americas. It’s actually not unusual at all, but the current dust layer is pretty thick.
“According to scientists that I have gotten some information from, they’re saying this is an abnormally large dust cloud. One of the things I noticed from this is the dust started coming off the coast of Africa several days ago, in fact maybe over a week ago. And it’s still coming. It’s almost like a prolonged area of dust.”
– AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and lead hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski
As the dust is carried the 5,000-miles across the Atlantic, it tends to suppress tropical thunderstorm activity.
“It keeps a lid on the atmosphere and brings dry air into anything that may try to develop, which is very detrimental for tropical development which relies on warm, moist air.”
– AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert
Another positive of the phenomenon is the potential for spectacular sunrises and sunsets across Florida and the Caribbean, with the particles of dust in the atmosphere giving off deeper reds and oranges than normal.
The Sahara is a desert located on the African continent. It is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest desert overall after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometers (3,600,000 sq mi) is comparable to the area of China or the United States. The name ‘Sahara’ is derived from the Arabic word for “desert”, ṣaḥra.