What is all the Buzz on the Saharan Dust?

Most of you have probably already heard the buzz around the Saharan dust that is making its way westward across the Atlantic. There are lots of questions on where these dust plumes are headed and what their affect will be on us. This post should hopefully answer those questions on the Saharan dust!

What is the Saharan Air (Dust) Layer?

The Saharan Air Layer (SAL) is a very hot and dry layer of air 5,000-15,000 feet above the surface. The hot and dry air originates from the Sahara Desert over Northern Africa that is carried westward by upper-level winds. The dust is usually picked up by thunderstorms and/or strong surface winds. Since the SAL is dry and warm, it is then forced over the cooler more dense marine layer over the Atlantic.

Saharan dust over the Atlantic (NOAA)

This dust then travels with faster winds just above the surface and can travel thousands of miles. The SAL also contributes to limiting tropical cyclones from developing. This is because these storms need moist air to become organized. Here is a simple graphic on where the SAL is found in the atmosphere.

The SAL travels about 5000-15,000 feet above the surface.

Where is it headed?

The dust will begin to become noticeable as we close in on the weekend. Right now the very dense dust plume is traveling from the east and will begin to move north over the Gulf of Mexico in the coming days. We will see a very dense concentrated plume move over our area this weekend. Here is the “dust density’ forecast for Saturday. It is incredible it will have traveled over 5,000 miles!

You can see a significant plume of Saharan dust that will move over the eastern U.S. . It is rare we see this dense of a dust plume make it all the way to North America.

How will it affect us?

There is some concern about whether this will affect air quality. This dust will stay mostly aloft, but those who suffer from allergies or with other respiratory issues may feel some impacts. The main impact will be hazy skies and some much more vibrant sunsets. Sunlight will reflect and refract off the dust particles making for some cool looking skies during the morning and evening.

WKU Weather with an amazing time lapse from Tuesday evening!
The Edmonson Voice with another great shot from Tuesday.

It is not uncommon that we see Saharan Dust make its way to North America. It happens almost every year during the summer months. The difference of this year is how much dust is making its way west. Like we’ve mentioned, it will make sunrises and sunsets more vibrant over the next week.

If you get any great sunset shots remember to tag us on social media! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @wxornotbg.