A massive cloud of dust that originated in the Sahara desert is now headed toward the southeastern U.S.
The “Godzilla” dust cloud is visible from space, and according to The NASA Earth Observatory team spans an area as wide as 1,500 miles over the Atlantic Ocean, Newsweek reports.
“This is the most significant event in the past 50 years,” said Pablo Méndez Lázaro, from the School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico. “Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands.”
The dust cloud was generated by the Saharan Air Layer, a vortex of air which takes shape over the desert during spring, summer, and fall. At its thickest point, the layer is about two miles thick.
“The dust started coming off the coast of Africa several days ago, in fact maybe over a week ago. And it’s still coming. It’s almost like a prolonged area of dust.” saidAccuWeather senior meteorologist and lead hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.
The dust cloud is expected to make sunsets in Florida, Texas and Louisiana more vibrant once it nears the U.S. border on Thursday, June 25. According to Derek Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Section at the NOAA’s Center for Weather & Climate, dust in the atmosphere changes the way that higher frequency blue hues and low frequency red hues are scattered onto the earth in visible wavelengths.
“This is why our skies are blue even on very clear days,” Arndt said. “Sunsets take on more yellow and reddish hues because they pass through more of the atmosphere to reach the observer, multiplying this effect to make the light reaching the observer even redder.
“[It] can also subtract more of the light earlier in the sunset (or longer into a sunrise), leading to longer-lasting, duskier tones that most people find pretty.”
NASA’s GEOS-5 animated model also indicates that the dust cloud could reach as far west as as Oklahoma, and as north as Arkansas, maybe further. It has already reduced satellite visibility of come islands in the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, and Puerto Rico.
“Some people posted pictures of themselves on social media wearing double masks to ward off the coronavirus and the dust, while others joked that the Caribbean looked like it had received a yellow filter movie treatment,” The Guardian reports.
People with respiratory problems, including asthma and allergies, could find their symptoms worsen as the dust moves in. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends closing windows and wearing a mask, especially when leaving the house during periods of poor air quality.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.