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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Wipe your watery eyes and look up: Sahara dust skies are back

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The Sahara desert may seem far away, but trade winds have again delivered dust all the way to Yucatán.

Sunset in Pensiones. Photo: Facebook

Another plume of Saharan dust is expected to reach the Gulf of Mexico by today. Its particles in the sky play with the sun’s rays. As a result, sunrises are a little more vibrant. People with allergies may not have noticed because they’re sneezing more and dabbing at watery eyes.

Coming from agricultural areas of the Sahara, the dust clouds travel 7,500 kilometers/4,660 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and hit various regions in the southern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.

Weather experts say this is an annual event just before hurricane season and actually suppresses cyclonic activity in the Atlantic. The phenomenon’s warmth, dryness and strong winds have a calming effect on weather conditions.

How is this dust possibly reaching our area so far from the desert? Blame (or give credit to) intense sandstorms in West Africa. The particles reach great heights and get caught in air currents heading west.

The dust clouds, also called the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “typically ramps up in mid-June and peaks from late June to mid-August, with new outbreaks occurring every three to five days,” said Dr. Jason Dunion, a University of Miami researcher.

“During this peak period, it is common for individual SAL outbreaks to reach farther to the west — as far west as Florida, Central America, and even Texas — and cover extensive areas of the Atlantic,” he told The Palm Beach Post.

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