Breakdown: What is Saharan dust & how it can impact tropical systems

Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 10:55 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Big dust storms develop in Africa due to strong thunderstorms. Winds in the Atlantic are able to carry these large dust storms across the Atlantic and toward the US. The trade winds can carry these large dust storms for many miles. These large dust clouds are referred to as “SAL” (Saharan Air Layer). This is a an area of dry air, filled with desert dust that forms over the Sahara during late spring, summer, and early autumn but can also form in early Spring.

Hurricane development will still be possible but not favorable, when Saharan dust from the Sahara desert spreads west. This spreading of dust, which is caused by the trade winds from Africa to the US, happens every year. When it does occur it can sometimes keep hurricane development down. The reason it can keep hurricane development down is because hurricanes need warm, muggy air to develop while the dust from the Sahara will make an airmass more dry. Research has shown, that iron-rich particles inside these dust clouds reflect sunlight and can cool the atmosphere. The fine dust particles also reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ocean, temporarily reducing the heating of the ocean surface, during the passage of the dust storm. Hurricanes need warm ocean waters for development.

These dust clouds can not only impact hurricanes but also cause a change in weather, as they typically bring drier and more stable air, which means less rainfall. Fine dust particles can be a natural fertilizer and can benefit the soil. Dust particles in the atmosphere also help to create beautiful, vivid sunrises and sunsets, as the dust particles scatter the sunlight.

There are some negative impacts with Saharan dust, it can reduce air quality, cause eye irritation, and can also cause sinus and respiratory problems.

Either way we have to stay prepared. The peak of hurricane season is mid August through early October and once again this season has been predicted to be an active one.

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