Dust plume approaching the southeast skies by the weekend

Here's everything you need to know
Brown sand and dust from Africa can be seen over the Gulf Coast and Caribbean as it approaches...
Brown sand and dust from Africa can be seen over the Gulf Coast and Caribbean as it approaches the east coast.(WDBJ7 Weather)
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 10:29 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 25, 2020 at 12:26 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It doesn’t take a scientist to spot the brown dust on the satellite image from space as it makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa. This is known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), a common sight in the summer months. Scientists believe this could be the most expansive dust plume in a half a century.

The dust has already made its way across the Caribbean causing very hazy skies and reduced air quality. It will approach Florida and the Gulf Coast by the end of the week, and should be over the Carolinas and Virginia by the weekend. We have already started to see some of the subtle impacts, including a bit more orange glow in our sunsets.


This isn’t a storm at all. Most of the dust is staying suspended between 15-20,000+ feet in the atmosphere. It is made of dust and sand that has been lofted into the air then carried by the westerly winds across the tropics where it is gradually dispersed. It doesn’t bring wind, rain or lightning. In fact, the air is so dry that it often keeps tropical systems from developing as it moves through.


This dust cloud will likely prove to be troublesome for pilots flying through and around it and will also lead to hazy conditions all across the eastern seaboard and deep south when it arrives this week.

While the majority of the dust will remain suspended, under perfect conditions, some of it can reach the surface causing decreased air quality. On occasion, raindrops can also contain the dust particles that can be seen when drops evaporate on things such as your car. This all depends on the concentration of dust of an area. Based on models, the highest likelihood of that happening would be along the Gulf Coast states where dust will be thicker.


Our skies will likely become quite murky the closer the Saharan dust is to our area. We may also notice a slight decrease in air quality, but I’m not expecting an unsafe drop as it was over the Caribbean. The most common side effect from Saharan dust is the well-known, brilliant orange sunsets and sunrises thanks to the dust particles scattering certain wavelengths of light. We could see that for several days before and after the dust exits.

The dust events typically only last a few days before they are pushed out by a weather system. That’s likely to happen early next week. We will keep you posted on air quality as we approach the weekend.

Get those cameras ready!

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