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Saharan Dust: What the Hell Is This Stuff?

Say what you will about the State of Florida's news organizations; our weathermen are absolutely topnotch (except when they're sexting kids). They have every computerized graphic in the book, amazing hairdos, and a penchant for predicting calamitous end-of-days scenarios based on nothing more than a blip of green. They also drop some pretty original terms on us.

Take, for example, "Saharan dust." No, it's not a new brand of synthetic marijuana that makes you see mirages. Nor is it the name of a 1970s Fort Lauderdale beach nightlife revue with an off-brand Wayne Cochran. It's actual dirt from the Saharan desert, and it's here to make your life a living hell.

So there we were, watching the weather report on TV news and hoping to see a green blob develop favorably into the chance for a few days off work. But instead, there was a huge red thing headed over across the Atlantic, which the glum weatherperson dutifully informed us would quell any chance of a tropical uprising last week. Instead, it would make the air very hot and humid, with a hanging stickiness sure to maximize discomfort. The skylines would be hazy and the sunsets grand.

There was indeed a haze around last week, and it's coming back after today. Here in our romantically befouled lowlands, we're used to breathing smoke from the Everglades or salt air from the ocean. Now we get some dirt from the desert.

It's exactly what it sounds like, mostly. Saharan dust is blowing around all the time but rarely makes it over the Atlantic ocean, meteorologists say. A scientist in Wisconsin says the total amount of dust is "in the millions of tons." You'll be glad to know that only the finest particles make it to South Florida's shores.

So... is it good for you? No. Another reason to sit inside and watch TV news. According to our helpful friends at the expert site Wikipedia, "Large dust concentrations may cause problems to people having respiratory problems. Another effect of dust clouds is more colorful sunsets." In addition, a study shows that it has a destructive effect on Florida coral. Turns out there are little microorganisms blowing across the Atlantic along with the dirt, and they just love to chow down on our coral reefs.

Humans are, of course, partially responsible -- misusing land in a way that makes desert conditions spread in parts of Africa. But Saharan air does tamp down the possibility of hurricanes, and it sounds pretty darned cool. The Everglades muck may be blowing away because of the sugar industry, but so far there's no import tariff on African dirt.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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