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Saharan Dust Cloud Approaching US, Affecting Air Quality

Massive cloud of Sahara dust heading toward Florida, with potential impact on air quality and temperatures.
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People watch the sunset while a cloud of Sahara dust hangs in the air in Havana on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. The massive cloud of dust is blanketing the Caribbean as it heads to the United States.

Outbursts of Canadian wildfire smoke have filled the sky over the eastern United States in recent weeks, but a new airborne danger from a different source is approaching from the tropics.

The Saharan dust is so dense and widespread that it could be seen from space on Thursday. NOAA’s GOES-EAST weather satellite spotted the first cloud of dust over the eastern Caribbean Sea and the Lesser Antilles, with an even bigger plume of dust emerging off the coast of Africa.

The cloud of dust currently over the Caribbean Sea is predicted to reach Florida by Saturday and could extend toward coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama by Sunday. This initial wave of dust may not be as extreme as the Saharan dust that spread across the Southeast in June of 2020, which was so massive it was dubbed the Godzilla dust cloud, but the upcoming event could still impact air quality and make the sky appear opaque.

A dust-filled sky over Florida may also help to block out some sunlight to knock down temperatures by a few degrees compared to the heat during the first week of July. During the extended Independence Day weekend, temperatures across the state reached the mid- to upper 90s with AccuWeather RealFeel Sun™ Temperatures nearing 120 degrees in some towns.

View of Havana covered by a cloud of dust on June 25, 2020. – A massive cloud of Saharan dust darkened much of Cuba on Wednesday and began to affect air quality in Florida, sparking warnings to people with respiratory illnesses to stay home. Saharan dust is common most years across parts of the Atlantic basin and sometimes spreads as far west as the Caribbean and Florida. PHOTO BY YAMIL LAGE/GETTY IMAGES 

The thicker dust cloud is predicted to reach the eastern Caribbean by the end of the weekend and may approach Florida by Tuesday. If this forecast comes to fruition, it may cause air quality to worsen across Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and Florida.

Saharan dust particles can irritate the skin and eyes in addition to worsening asthma symptoms and other respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms and events.

With the Saharan dust forecast to become even more widespread across the Atlantic hurricane basin into next week, and with disruptive winds blowing over the ocean, it is unlikely that another tropical system will spin up in the coming days.

Saharan dust will likely be just a temporary slowdown in tropical activity before the Atlantic hurricane season shifts into a higher gear.


Produced in association with AccuWeather

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