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A massive dust cloud from the Sahara Desert is headed towards the US

NOAA satellites capture the Saharan dust cloud over the Atlantic Ocean on June 19, 2020. (CIRA/NOAA)

 Just when we thought that 2020 couldn’t come up with any more crazy headlines, try this one on for size. There’s a massive dust cloud floating its way towards North America on some warm air blowing off the Sahara Desert. 

Satellite imagery of the Saharan dust cloud over the Atlantic Ocean on June 19, 2020.
(CIRA/NOAA)

Don’t be alarmed

Don’t get stressed though, there’s not much to be worried about. Meteorologists say all the hot dry air moving over the ocean is pretty common for this time of year. In fact, all the hot dry air will actually dampen the possibility of new hurricanes forming. Another added bonus is that if the giant dust cloud reaches the US it could mean some pretty impressive sunsets. 

 

Washington Post Meteorologist Matthew Cappucci says, “Hot air at the mid-levels can quash thunderstorm development, decreasing the likelihood that tropical storms or hurricanes form in the short term. That’s good news heading into July, though the current dust events will be long since over by the time hurricane season peaks in August and September.”

Dust clouds from the Sahara are actually pretty common

This isn’t a new phenomenon though, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls this yearly weather pattern the Saharan Air Layer, what they say is different though, is the amount of dust. 

 

They say that the mass of dry, dusty air generally moves over the North Atlantic every three to five days during the middle part of the year.

“[The] Saharan Air Layer outbreaks usually occupy a 2 to 2.5-mile-thick layer of the atmosphere with the base starting about 1 mile above the surface…  [The SAL] usually ramps up in mid-June, peaks from late June to mid-August, and begins to rapidly subside after mid-August.  During peak period, individual Saharan Air Layer outbreaks reach farther to the west (as far west as Florida, Central America and even Texas) and cover vast areas of the Atlantic (sometimes as large as the lower 48 United States).”

Predictions say that the cloud of dust from Africa is expected to reach the southern US on Wednesday. 

 

What about Utah?

Meteorologist Kevin Eubank says that it’s pretty unlikely for us here in Utah to see any of this Saharan dust. That’s because our weather pattern comes from the west, African dust does not make it to Utah.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen dust come to Utah from across the globe before. Back in 2001 most of Utah was covered by a haze that originated from the Gobi Desert that stretches between Mongolia and China. 

Chris Maier, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said at the time that it didn’t create any problems, “But we may see some very red sunsets as a result of the dust storm.”