Sunsets and sneezes: Saharan dust blowing into Florida

Sunsets across Florida in the coming days could become even more spectacular, as clouds of dust from the Sahara desert sweep in across the Atlantic coast.

The plume is expected to dampen storm activity but worsen air pollution, causing trouble for some people with allergies and other respiratory problems. Some health experts say symptoms could mimic those from COVID-19.

NASA is monitoring the dust, which was swept off Africa by strong winds swirling across the deserts of Mali and Mauritania. Trade winds are carrying the plume across the ocean, with the leading edge expected to arrive in Florida in the coming days.

"It’s going to be a major dust outbreak," Joseph Prospero, professor emeritus at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Prospero pioneered research into African dust clouds.

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Dry winds carrying the particles could help smother storm systems by drying out the humid tropical air that feeds turbulent weather across a well-traveled route for hurricanes, experts said.

"It’s been moving across the Atlantic for the past several days, and it’s expected to be in the area around Friday or Saturday," Sammy Hadi, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami, told the paper. "It acts to prevent widespread showers and thunderstorms. You could still have showers and thunderstorms, but the coverage would be much less if you didn’t have Saharan dust."

The 2020 Saharan dust plume, seen from space. (NOAA)

Scientists and health experts have long monitored the plumes for their effect on weather, the climate and the oceans. It’s unclear how severely the incoming plume of dust will affect human health.

FOX 35 reports that winds last summer carried nearly 24 tons of dust from the Sahara Desert across the Atlantic to North and South America. The 2020 dust storm was so massive that it was nicknamed Godzilla and astronauts at the International Space Station could see it.