Next 2020 weather crisis: Massive Sahara dust cloud heads toward US after Caribbean

Photographers shoot pictures at the colonial-era fortress El Morro Cabana as dust carried by winds from the Sahara desert shrouds Havana, Cuba, June 24, 2020. (Reuters)

A massive plume of Saharan desert dust that has engulfed Caribbean skies is now approaching the United States, warned The Weather Channel on Thursday, in yet another potential disaster in the year 2020.

The dust cloud has turned blue skies into a milky brown haze and sparked health warnings across the region as air quality falls to unhealthy levels.

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While dust travels northwest from the Sahara every year, this year’s dust storm is the densest plume in a half a century, according to meteorologists cited by Reuters.

“It's the worst I've seen since we've kept records,” Evan Thompson, director of the meteorological service division in Jamaica, told Reuters. “We are seeing a much thicker mass of dust particles suspended. It is a lot more distinct and noticeable.”


What is a Saharan dust plume and is it normal weather?

Wind blows clouds of dust from the Sahara Desert in North Africa northwest every year, according to US space agency NASA.

“Each year, some 800 million metric tons of desert dust blow up from North Africa and become the largest airborne dust particles on the planet, according to NASA,” said The Weather Channel.

“The particles form huge plumes of dry, dusty air that move from the Sahara Desert, off the coast of Africa and over the Atlantic Ocean.”

According to NASA, the Saharan dust typically “helps build beaches in the Caribbean and fertilizes soils in the Amazon” in addition to affecting air quality, Reuters reported.

A plume of dust from the Sahara Desert approaches the United States from the Caribbean in an image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-East satellite June 24, 2020. (Reuters)

A plume of dust from the Sahara Desert approaches the United States from the Caribbean in an image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-East satellite June 24, 2020. (Reuters)


The dust cloud moved into the eastern Caribbean at the weekend and by Tuesday had smothered Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and eastern Cuba, continuing its advance up and westward toward Central America and southern United States, according to Reuters.

Experts have warned that some areas could experience higher air pollution levels with the dust triggering allergies, The Weather Channel reported.

Is the US at risk from the Saharan dust plume?

Several states are expected to experience “unhealthy air levels” on Thursday and Friday, according to The Weather Channel.

Parts of Texas, as well as areas in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska could be affected. The Weather Channel expects the plume to reach “parts of the Gulf Coast and Deep South late this week and could move into the Plains, Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic.”

People took to social media to voice their concern about the incoming cloud as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid, locust invasion, and now Saharan dust plume over the southern USA.” Twitter user Salim Saiyed wrote. “Is it time to evacuate?


However, The Weather Channel reported that the storm is “not as bad as it looks.”

“Dust plumes like these typically become less concentrated the farther to the west they move,” weather.com senior meteorologist Chris Dolce told The Weather Channel on Thursday. "But the dust might at least contribute to hazy skies in some areas of the US. There could also be brilliant sunrises and sunsets.”

The dust cloud moved into the eastern Caribbean at the weekend and by Tuesday had smothered Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and eastern Cuba, continuing its advance up and westward toward Central America and southern United States, according to Reuters.

Officials across affected regions warned locals to remain at home when possible and wear a face mask, according to Reuters, especially if they already had a respiratory condition, “as the dust was a powerful irritant and could contain pathogens as well as minerals.”


“The use of a face mask is recommended in this situation, in addition to already being necessary for prevention of COVID-19,” said Cuba’s top weatherman, Jose Rubiera, on his Facebook page.

“Those with asthma and people with allergies should be careful and stay at home.”

- With Reuters

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Last Update: Thursday, 25 June 2020 KSA 08:47 - GMT 05:47
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