Saharan dust is nothing new, but will bring chance for beautiful sky views to the region


FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Large plumes of dust that originated from the Sahara Desert in Africa are arriving in the United States. Impacts have already been felt in Caribbean, where weather conditions have been hazy, with reduced air quality due to all of the dust particulates in the air.

Dust from the Sahara Desert travels in the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), which is a dry layer of air located roughly 5,000 feet above the Earth’s service. Steering provided by the easterly trade winds transported the plumes of dust over 4,000 miles to the west, towards the United States.

Graphical depiction of the distance from the Sahara Desert to Fort Wayne, IN.
Easterly Trade Winds steer both tropical cyclones and plumes of Saharan dust as it moves across the Atlantic.

Forecast models show two large plumes of Saharan Dust impacting portion of the United States over the coming week. The first plume, which is currently located in the Gulf of Mexico, will make a sharp turn and move over the southeastern portion of the country. Some dust is expected to move to the north over the Ohio Valley and into the Great Lakes region by the end of the weekend.

Forecast model depiction showing the location of large dust plumes at noon on Saturday.
Forecast model depiction showing the location of large dust plumes early Monday.

It is not rare for large plumes of Saharan Dust to reach the United States, in fact this is typically a yearly occurrence. However, there is increased interest in this years phenomenon, as density of dust particles appears to be much greater than in previous years.

While the densest concentration of dust will stay to the south of northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, some impacts may still be felt.

The presence of Saharan Dust in the atmosphere can result in beautiful, vibrant sunrises and sunsets, which provide a fantastic photo opportunity. On the flip side, the presence of dust in the atmosphere can create air quality issues, making breathing a challenge for those who suffer from respiratory conditions. Those who do have respiratory conditions should be on alert that air quality may be reduced over the weekend and into next week.

While not a direct impact to our region, the presence of large plumes of Saharan Dust in the atmosphere are an indication of dry air in the low to mid levels of atmosphere. This dry air can work to suppress the development of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Basin.

Saharan Dust moving into the United States is not a new meteorological phenomenon. What makes this round so impressive is that the plumes that are arriving in the United States are some of the largest, densest plumes in decades, according to scientists.

Graphical breakdown of the impacts that may result from incoming Saharan Dust.

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