Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Enormous cloud of dust to bring scenic sunsets to the Gulf Coast

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A massive cloud of dust was airlifted across the Atlantic thanks to a weather pattern called the African Eastern Jet, which consists of strong low-to-moderate winds in the atmosphere over central Africa. On Wednesday, satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration captured a robust cloud that stretched nearly 4,000 miles from the African coast to Cuba.

A cloud of dust from the Sahara Desert will create vivid, scenic sunsets and sunrises from Texas to Florida over the coming week, according to meteorologists at AccuWeather.

Though the dust is expected to reach the Gulf Coast this weekend, it may not become as evident until next week when high levels arrive, according to AccuWeather’s lead meteorologist Adam Douty.

“From Southeast Texas to Florida are areas where [the dust] will be most noticeable,” Douty said. “It will most likely cause the sky to appear milky white.”

Douty said that in some places the dust might be thick enough to make the sky look hazy, but for the most part the dust will stay in the middle to upper layers of the atmosphere.

Normally, the sky appears blue because the gases that make up the atmosphere naturally scatter blues with shorter wavelengths than yellow, orange, or red. During sunrise and sunset, sunlight has to pass through more of the atmosphere due to the sun’s low angle. As a result, sunrise and sunset appear in a yellow or reddish hue.

According to NOAA, “High dust levels in the atmosphere can amplify this effect, resulting in longer-lasting, more somber colors that cause vivid sunsets and sunrises.”

Nearly two years ago, in late June 2020, a monstrous Saharan dust cloud dubbed the “Godzilla Dust Cloud” swept across the Atlantic, bringing with it one of the most concentrated areas of dust scientists had seen in years. And while this latest dust cloud is unlikely to achieve “Godzilla” status, it serves as a reminder that the frequency of these dust clouds will increase through mid-June, peaking between late June and mid-August.

Winds pick up an estimated 100 million tons of dust from the Sahara every year, according to NASA, and a large amount of it blows across the Atlantic, which can affect the weather. The season when these dust clouds become more frequent is in sync with the Atlantic hurricane season.

These dust clouds can suppress the development of tropical cyclones over the Atlantic. According to NOAA, the dusty air has about 50% less humidity than the typical tropical atmosphere and can therefore weaken an organized tropical cyclone or growing tropical disturbance.

Second, the warm air associated with the cloud stabilizes the atmosphere and suppresses cloud formation. Dust suspended in the atmosphere absorbs sunlight, which helps it retain its heat as it moves across the Atlantic.

Finally, the strong winds associated with the dust clouds can also disrupt or weaken a tropical cyclone or disturbance.

While most of the dust from this cloud stays in the middle to upper layers of the atmosphere, air quality from Texas to Florida can drop to moderate or even unhealthy.

Individuals with respiratory problems are strongly advised to limit the time they spend outdoors once air quality drops to moderate or unhealthy levels. AccuWeather allows users to monitor the air quality in a specific location in real time using data provided by Plume Labs, a company acquired by AccuWeather earlier this year.

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