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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic could reach South Florida

In an update image provided by NASA Earth Observatory, dust blowing from the Sahara off the coast of Morocco toward the Canary Islands in 2022. As Florida recovers from the tangled seaweed blob plaguing its coasts, nature may have something else in store for the state: dust from the Sahara.

By Rebecca Carballo

As Florida recovers from the tangled seaweed blob plaguing its coasts, nature may have something else in store for the state: dust from the Sahara.

Saharan dust is moving across the Atlantic Ocean and could reach South Florida, resulting in hotter days and less rain, meteorologists said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the dust was still approaching South Florida. Earlier satellite images showed patches of dust over Puerto Rico, with more over the northern and western parts of the island, said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa, Florida. The weather service does not track the dust’s speed as it travels, she said.

The dust could arrive in South Florida by this week, said Ping Zhu, an earth and environment professor at Florida International University. However, he added, it is not a reason to panic.

“I don’t think we should worry too much of it,” Zhu said. “So far we don’t see the evidence that it’s very serious.”

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Saharan dust travels to Florida periodically throughout the year, Zhu said. Thunder and windstorms cause conditions that pick up dust, and certain winds blow it westward toward the United States.

It is not clear whether the dust will make it the thousands of miles to Florida, or how long it could linger, Delerme said.

“It could take a day or two,” she said. “It could dissipate. It could not make it at all.”

If the dust travels far enough, it could result in higher temperatures and less rain for South Florida. Since Saharan dust is so dry, it makes it difficult for water vapor to form in the atmosphere, limiting chances of rain, Zhu said. It could also have a blanket effect, trapping heat on the ground.

Still, many Floridians might not notice much change.

People in sensitive groups or who have asthma may feel some of the effects, a meteorologist with the weather service said, as dust can worsen air pollution, allergies and lung problems.

The dryness of the dust could also affect air quality, according to Miami-Dade County’s website. As of Saturday evening, the air quality level in the county was listed as “moderate.”

Meteorologists said that the haze wouldn’t be strong enough to affect visibility and threaten air traffic. However, Federal Aviation Administration officials said they frequently grappled with visibility constraints and were “prepared to modify operations as needed.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Saharan dust made it out of Africa. Last summer, a dust cloud traveled all the way to Texas, and another turned the skies over Europe orange, with red dust coating cars and “blood rain” falling in certain areas.

In 2018, the dust turned snow in Eastern Europe orange, and in past years it has prompted both U.S. and international officials to issue health alerts.

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