Saharan Dust moving toward Florida

Author: Nikki Sheaks Producer: Carolyn Dolcimascolo
Published: Updated:
saharan dust

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, defines the Saharan air layer as a mass of very dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert during late spring, summer, and early fall. This layer can travel and impact locations thousands of miles away from its African origins.

The Weather Authority Meteorologist Nikki Sheaks said we should see some of the dust over the weekend, but more so next week.

“What we are seeing right now is the largest plume so far this summer,” she said.

According to NOAA, activity typically ramps up in mid-June and peaks from late June to mid-August.

saharan dust
This graphic shows what to expect on the 4th of July.

“The dust is also known to enhance and make our sunrises and sunsets more colorful,” added Sheaks.

The warmth, dryness and strong winds associated with the dust have been shown to suppress tropical cyclone formation and intensification, according to NOAA scientists.

It also reduces the chances of rain but can make storms more intense.

According to a study partially funded by NASA, Saharan dust also brings nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s West Coast, which may kick off red tide blooms.

saharan dust

This is largely due to iron, one of the minerals found in the dust. As the dust falls into the Gulf, it attracts a cyanobacteria called Trichodesmium. The bacteria use that iron to convert any nitrogen in the water into a form that can be consumed by other marine organisms, including the algae that lead to red tide.

The study found that in June 1999, dust from the Sahara Desert made its way across the ocean and reached parts of Florida in late July. By October, and after a 300% increase of this biologically accessible nitrogen, a huge bloom of toxic red algae had formed within the study area, an 8,100-square-mile region between Tampa Bay and Fort Myers.

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