Saharan dust in Gulf of Mexico could impact North Carolina beginning on Friday


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – An annual cloud of Saharan dust continues to make its way across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean sea with sights set on the United States later this week, including North Carolina. The plume of dust seems to be more intense this year and, considering all the events that have happened in 2020, also seems to be getting more attention. Either way, there will likely be some impacts from the dust for the Carolinas beginning on Friday and continuing through the weekend and even into Monday.

The layer of dust has been visible from space for the last several days. Views from NOAA satellites and pictures taken from the International Space Station show the brown cloud of dust stretching all the way across the Caribbean Sea, which is approximately 2,000 miles across from west to east.

Images on the ground in the Caribbean this week have shown reduced visibility in addition to gray, hazy, brown skies in places like Puerto Rico and Antigua. So, while dust traveling across the Atlantic is a normal yearly occurrence, the reduced visibility and air quality issues reported in the Caribbean are less frequent.

“The dust plume is now in the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to impact Gulf Coast states from Texas to Louisiana. Computer models then bring the dust into the Midwest and finally loop it back around to North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic as early as Friday. The dust could stick around the Carolinas through Monday,” said CBS 17 chief meteorologist Wes Hohenstein.

Hohenstein goes on to say “in North Carolina, impacts will include hazy conditions and gray skies along with reduced visibility starting as early as Friday. Those with sensitive allergies and respiratory issues may notice it more than others, but most people are not expected to be impacted. There is a chance that the higher concentrations of dust seen in the Caribbean could make it to the United States. If this were to happen, there could be some air quality concerns, but the farther away from the Saharan Desert the plume gets, the more dissipated it will become.

The mass of extremely dry and dusty air known as the Saharan Air Layer forms over the Sahara Desert and moves across the North Atlantic every three to five days from late spring to early fall, peaking in late June to mid-August, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It can occupy a roughly two-mile thick layer in the atmosphere, the agency said.

Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center keep on eye on these annual dust clouds because they can inhibit thunderstorm and tropical formation. The clouds of dust are usually very dry and can keep tropical systems from forming.

The dust layer will also provide some amazing colors in the atmosphere during sunset and sunrise times, so have your camera ready this weekend. Reduced tropical activity and lower rain chances is another characteristic because the particulate in the atmosphere keep storms from organizing.

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