Massive Saharan dust cloud is on its way to Florida, where it could arrive as early as this weekend
The Gulf Coast of the United States will be covered by a huge cloud of sand and dust this weekend as the Saharan Air Layer drifts across from Africa.
Around this time every year a huge plume of dust and sand makes its way from the Sahara Desert to the American continent. Also known as the ‘Saharan Air Layer’, high pressure in the Atlantic provokes a clockwise flow of air which picks up and carries the dust all the way to the United States.
The latest models predict that the dust will enter the southern Gulf this weekend and is expected to advance further into the Gulf and cover a significant portion of Florida. It is thought that the coverage of Florida will peak around Tuesday next week, but remnants of the huge cloud could be in the atmosphere for weeks to come.
Where will the dust cloud travel?
At the time of writing, the huge dust cloud is travelling over the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to reach the southern-most parts of the US over the weekend. Real-time satellite imagery shows the dust cloud moving in a westerly direction, carried by the powerful trade winds.
On Thursday the most westerly edge of the dust cloud reached parts of the Caribbean after covering the Atlantic in a short time period, thanks to strong winds in the region.
However that section of the cloud is just one part of a truly enormous plume, which spanned most of the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday. The area of highest concentration of dust particles was recorded over the tropical Atlantic, close to the most northerly part of South America.
NASA claim that around 182 million tons of dust from the Sahara leaves the continent every single year, although the actual amount depends on the atmospheric conditions at the time. If there is less rainfall then the desert winds will be better able to lift up the dry dust particles, increasing the size of the cloud.
What is the cause of the Saharan dust cloud?
The annual dumping of hundreds of millions of tons of dust is largely a result of the extreme temperatures recorded in the Sahara Desert. The climate is so hot and dry that the air gets pushed into a rapidly rising cycle over the desert, picking up the sand and dust below and lifting it into the atmosphere.
Then, at the start of summer each year, the trade winds blow across from the African continent and are carried across the Atlantic by the warm waters, taking the dust with it.
The enormous cloud can reach heights of 60,000 feet and drifts across the 3,000-mile stretch of sea to reach the North American continent. Most of the dust will land on the Caribbean, Cuba, and the US’ Gulf Coast.