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Saharan Dust Expected Across Region Through End of Workweek

A forecast of the Saharan Air Layer indicates dust across the region through at least the end of the workweek. (Photo courtesy MyFoxHurricane.com)

The prevalence of Saharan dust in the air has been causing some hazy conditions across the territory. Dust particulates in the atmosphere are expected to remain through the end of the workweek.

Saharan dust has been moving across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for several days. According to a forecast of the Saharan Air Layer, dust is projected to linger across the region until at least Friday before clearing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained that the desert sand travels thousands of miles from Northern Africa via winds in the upper atmosphere and can affect weather conditions in various locations across the world, including the Caribbean.

“Saharan dust is what it sounds like — dust and sand from the Sahara Desert — which is lofted up and transported over the Atlantic Ocean by the trade winds,” according to a previous interview between the Source and Jake Carstens, a postdoctoral scholar at the Pennsylvania State University Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. “These [dust] events can occur year-round. Dust most often reaches the Caribbean and North/Central America in the spring and summer,” Carstens said.

“Perhaps the most obvious consequence of Saharan dust is its impact on visibility and air quality,” Carstens stated. “It can make breathing difficult, especially for people with existing lung conditions, and it’s recommended that people limit outdoor activity as much as possible on dusty days,” Carstens advised.

The CDC shared the following information regarding potential health risks associated with air pollution caused by the desert dirt.

“Saharan dust can be harmful to your health,” the CDC said. “The particles can be breathed in and enter your lungs and blood stream, potentially triggering asthma attacks in people who have asthma and aggravating other respiratory conditions. Saharan dust worsens air quality and increases the levels of particulate matter [pollution] in the air,” the CDC continued.

The CDC recommends remaining indoors as much as possible when high concentrations of sand particles are in the air.

“Saharan dust can affect anyone,” the CDC cautioned. “But like all particulate pollution, it bothers some people more than others. People most likely to experience health problems caused by exposure to Saharan dust include children and babies, older adults, people with underlying lung conditions, and people with chronic cardiopulmonary diseases,” the CDC explained.

Saharan Dust and Tropical Cyclone Development 

A benefit to the prevalence of Saharan dirt is that it can play a significant role in preventing the development of tropical cyclones.

“Hurricane development requires a rich region of moisture,” Carstens stated. “Saharan dust storms are just the opposite — large pockets of dry air that limit the persistent, widespread thunderstorm activity needed to spin up hurricanes. This is a major reason why tropical cyclones developing from African waves are less frequent in the first couple of months of hurricane season [when Saharan dust is prevalent],” Carstens said.

A satellite image captures Saharan dust moving off the coast of Northern Africa. (Photo courtesy CDC and NOAA)

While the presence of dust can potentially help thwart the development of tropical systems, it is vital to be prepared for hurricane season and extreme weather events. The 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season begins on June 1.

USVI residents and visitors can find weather information and obtain alerts from the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency website and the National Weather Service.

A daily weather post is also published on the Source Weather Page, and a daily weather forecast video is also available to view.

 

 

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