As Florida recovers from the tangled mass of seaweed plaguing its shores, nature may have something else in store for the state: dust from the Sahara.
Saharan dust is drifting across the Atlantic Ocean and could reach south Florida, resulting in hotter days and less rain, meteorologists said.
As of Saturday afternoon, the dust was near the Bahamas, about 300 miles east of Florida. Satellite images also showed patches of dust over Puerto Rico, with more in the northern and western parts of the island, said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa. The Weather Service doesn’t track the speed of the dust as it travels, he said.
The dust could arrive in South Florida by this week, said Ping Zhu, a professor of land and environment at Florida International University. Still, he added, that’s no reason to panic.
« I don’t think we should worry too much about it, » said Professor Zhu. « So far we don’t see evidence that it’s very serious. »
This is not a rare occurrence. Saharan dust travels to Florida periodically throughout the year, Professor Zhu said. Thunderstorms and windstorms cause conditions that collect dust and some winds push it westward towards the United States.
It’s unclear whether the dust will reach Florida for thousands of miles or how long it might linger, Ms. Delerme said.
« It could take a day or two, » he said. “It could dissolve. He couldn’t do it at all.
If the dust travels far enough, it could cause higher temperatures and less rain for South Florida. Because Saharan dust is so dry, it makes it difficult for water vapor to build up in the atmosphere, limiting the chances of rain, Professor Zhu said. It could also have a cover effect, trapping heat on the ground.
However, many Floridians may not notice many changes.
People in sensitive groups or who have asthma may feel some of the effects, said a National Weather Service meteorologist, 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 website. As of Saturday evening, the air quality level in the county was listed as « moderate. »
Meteorologists said the haze would not be strong enough to affect visibility and threaten air traffic. However, Federal Aviation Administration officials said they frequently grapple with visibility constraints and are « ready to adjust operations as needed. »
This would not be the first time Saharan dust has exited Africa. Last summer, one cloud of dust traveled as far as Texas, and another turned Europe’s skies orange, with cars covered in red dust and « blood rain » falling in some areas.
In 2018, the dust turned snow in Eastern Europe orange and has prompted both US and international officials to issue health alerts in past years.