Sahara dust: Prepare for watery eyes and gorgeous skies

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Dust from the Sahara Desert is making another 5,000-mile trek across the Atlantic and is expected to arrive in the Gulf of Mexico later this week.

The result? Sore eyes and breathing problems for some and gorgeous skies for everyone.

Every year, these Saharan dust plumes are generated from strong trade winds over north Africa’s vast desert. Sometimes, when the dust plume is large enough and the easterly winds are strong enough, the plume travels all the way to the Caribbean, Yucatan and the United States.

Expect your Instagram feed to favor hues of crimson and orange.

This isn’t a typical dust storm. When the dust arrives, it is suspended high up in the atmosphere, between 5,000 and 20,000 feet, or up to four miles.

Individual dust particles are very small, but when the plume arrives, skies will become much hazier. That leads to exceptionally colorful sunrises and sunsets as the light bends around and through the particulate.

Allergy sufferers may notice irritation as some of the dust reaches land.

Studies have shown after large plumes arrive, there is an increase in the harmful algae. Mixed in with the dust is iron from the topsoil in Africa. When the iron ends up in the Gulf, it actually fertilizes the water which can begin the process of the toxic algae bloom, said Amanda Holly, a Tampa meteorologist. NASA is studying a link between these dust plumes and red tide, she said.

NASA also explained that the “dust helps build beaches in the Caribbean and fertilizes soils in the Amazon.”

These Saharan plumes typically begin in mid-June and run through mid-August, peaking somewhere in the middle. According to NOAA, dust rapidly subsides after mid-August, followed by an uptick in tropical activity in August and September.

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