Experts are warning that a huge plume of Saharan dust is headed to the southeastern United States. David Wally, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service says that the dust storm will cause sunrises and sunsets to be more vibrant because of the sunlight being scattered by the dust particles.
— Brian McNoldy (@BMcNoldy) June 22, 2020
However, the massive plume of dust can obviously have some adverse health effects.
Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, told the New York Times that this dust can be an allergen that can cause trouble for people with asthma or reactive airways.
Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, also said that “particulate matter of this dust cloud contains more silica, and is a hazard to those with underlying lung conditions. But even normal healthy people are subject to irritant effects.”
Horovitz and other experts recommend wearing a mask and using air filters, which many people are already doing. He also warned that everyone should try to avoid outdoor activities if the dust is in the air and especially if you have health complications that could be impacted. Luckily, we are living during a time when people are wearing masks and avoiding social situations anyway, so there are many people who will be following this advice without even realizing it.
Researchers have been watching the large dust plume move across the Atlantic ocean through satellite images for the past few days, and expect it to arrive in the Gulf Coast states, including Texas and Louisiana, on Wednesday and Thursday.
This is not an unusual occurrence, the Saharan dust cloud makes a trip across the Atlantic on a fairly regular basis, but this time it is much larger than usual. The dust cloud phenomenon was first identified in 1972 and has been closely observed by researchers ever since. Most of the time it is no problem, but on some occasions, it is especially bad.
On Sunday, Puerto Rico’s Department of Health also said that people who have asthma, respiratory illnesses and allergies, “as well as those who have been infected with Covid-19, must be very careful not to aggravate their health conditions.”
Disturbances such as large thunderstorm complexes over North Africa periodically result in massive dust and sand storms, some of which reach as high as 6,000 meters. At times, the layer of dust is transported west across the Atlantic Ocean.
We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west central Atlantic. Amazing how large an area it covers! pic.twitter.com/JVGyo8LAXI
— Col. Doug Hurley (@Astro_Doug) June 21, 2020
In the case of Africa, winds blow twenty percent of dust from a Saharan storm out over the Atlantic Ocean, and twenty percent of that, or four percent of a single storm's dust, reaches all the way to the western Atlantic. The remainder settles out into the ocean or washes out of the air with rainfall.
Some findings indicate that the iron-rich dust particles that often occur within the dust cloud reflect solar radiation, which ends up cooling the atmosphere. The particles also reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ocean, which reduces the amount of heating of the ocean.