That hazy sky you woke up to this morning wasn't the usual August overcast. It was actually Saharan dust flying over our neck of the woods straight from Africa.
Prior to this year's hurricane season, forecasters predicted a slower-than-usual turnout of storms. Part of that is because of El Nino, and the other part is because Africa is blowing dust our way from its desert in the northern part of the continent.
The dust, which gets churned up in the desert and blown across the Atlantic toward us on tropical waves, makes things drier and suppresses storms from forming.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, this particular batch of Saharan dust left the west coast of Africa ten or 12 days ago. It is stretching out as far as southern Texas.
"It's a thunderstorm-suppressor," NOAA's Jason Dunion told news-press. "The air is superdry, so any thunderstorms that run into that dry air will collapse."
Overall, the dust tends to dry out the tropics, making it difficult for tropical systems to form.
The Saharan dust is otherwise harmless, save for those who suffer from asthma or respiratory illnesses.
Experts say those who do should stay indoors until the dust goes away, which forecasters say should be soon.
Until then, the dust will keep things a little drier. And sunrises and sunsets should be prettier than usual.
"Sarahan dust particles are a little bigger and tend to scatter long wavelengths, too," Dunion said. "So at sunrise and sunset, you see more yellows and get an eerie glow, not brilliant red. If you have clouds in the sky, you could get some neat sunsets."
And, according to the National Weather Service, the Saharan dust is already showing its benefits. A disturbance currently floating around in the central Atlantic has been given a very low chance of forming.
Another apparent benefit we've gotten from Saharan dust over the years? It's basically responsible for giving us the Bahamas.
From the Smithsonian:
A new study published in the journal Geology suggests a surprising source for the nutrients that feed the Bahaman splendor: the Sahara desert. The study looked at the concentration of iron and manganese in the sediments found on the Great Bahama Bank, the undersea platform underlying much of the shallow water surrounding the islands. The researchers found that the ratio of minerals in the Great Bahama Bank sediments closely matched the makeup of dust from the Sahara desert.
Kill off any potential hurricanes and give us tropical islands? That's some pretty fine dust.
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