A massive cloud of Sahara Desert dust is blanketing the Caribbean as it heads toward the U.S. with a size and concentration that experts say hasn’t been seen in half a century.
The thick dust cloud, known as the Saharan Air Layer, is making a 5,000 mile trip from the northern Africa desert to North and Central America along the east to west Trade Winds along the equator. The Saharan Air Layer is between 5,000 and 20,000 feet above the Earth's surface, and dust plumes travel over the Atlantic Ocean several times a year between spring and fall.
This year's dust plume is thicker than normal, the concentration of particles in Puerto Rico are the highest in decades. Air quality across most of the Caribbean region fell to record “hazardous” levels Monday and experts who nicknamed the event the “Godzilla dust cloud” warned people to stay indoors and use air filters if they have one.
An updated #GOESEast look at the Saharan dust plume moving over the Caribbean on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/NpHScxF3Av
— NWS Eastern Region (@NWSEastern) June 21, 2020
Many health specialists are concerned about those battling respiratory symptoms tied to COVID-19, with thousands of confirmed cases reported across the Caribbean.
The National Weather Service says the dust plume will calm tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, because of the dry air. "The dust is part of a large exceptionally dry layer of air that originated over the Sahara Desert. This hot, dry air layer has a temperature inversion and wind shear that inhibits storm development," the agency stated on their Twitter accountfor the Eastern Region.
The increased dust particles will also make for more "colorful" sunrises and sunsets. Typically, air molecules and dust particles in the atmosphere change the direction of light waves, causing them to "scatter".
A computer model forecast of atmospheric dust for the next 10 days. The plume of Saharan dust is expected to move over the Southeastern US next week. The dust will be primarily at higher altitudes, so the main impact will be some especially colorful sunrises sunsets pic.twitter.com/bBzFp06lCu
— NWS Eastern Region (@NWSEastern) June 19, 2020