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Saharan dust moving into the Gulf Coast

Saharan dust moving into the Gulf Coast
Posted at 5:36 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 17:36:10-04

One thing we rarely talk about here in Southwest Florida is dust, but a layer of dust from the Saharan Desert in Africa has been moving across the Atlantic and is now affecting parts of the United States. In fact, this time every year a layer of dust from Africa moves across the Atlantic.

This year seems to be worse than most. Scientists are saying the dust storms over Senegal the last few weeks were the worst in 50 years. Turbulent weather descended on western Africa last week kicking up sand and dust. Thermal lows near the West African coast churned up dust that would contribute to the traveling plume, but not before hitting West African cities and towns.

Over the past week this dust has move across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean. Massive dust plumes have caused air quality problems in Puerto Rico, Hispanola, and other parts of the Caribbean.

Today the Saharan dust has made its way into Texas and Louisiana as well as parts of Florida and will be sticking around the upper atmosphere through next week.

This huge dust layer has both positive and negative effects. Dust moving across the Atlantic inhibits tropical development as the air is very dry in the atmosphere. It also helps block sunlight and the formation of storms.

The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ is a belt of low pressure which circles the Earth generally near the equator where the trade winds of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres come together. It is characterised by convective activity which generates often vigorous thunderstorms over large areas.

It is obvious by looking at the infrared satellite over the ITCZ that there is limited convection in that area due to the dust compared to what we typically see this time of year. It is unlikely that tropical development will take place in the Southern Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico while the layer of dust remains over these areas.

When dust invades Southwest Florida it can limit the amount of thunderstorms we see in the area. When the dust is thick, it makes for very hazy yellow-brown skies. But when the dust is rather faint, the refraction and reflection of light can contribute to stunning sunrises and sunsets.

A team of researchers collected dust in West Africa and found bacteria that are linked with respiratory diseases, including Micrococcus, Burkholderia and Pseudomonas.

Research shows airborne dust can have adverse effects on health, with one of the most important being pulmonary disease. While there has been no conclusive answer, past research has investigated if the coronavirus could spread via pollution particles such as NO2 and particulate matter, INCLUDING DUST.