Heads up, Texas. A gigantic cloud of dust from the Sahara Desert is heading westwards across the Atlantic Ocean and could reach the US by early next week.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite captured a stunning image of the dust blowing off the western coast of Africa on June 7.
The National Weather Service Houston has forecasted the large cloud of Saharan dust will continue to migrate across the Atlantic this week, reaching the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, then moving into Southeast Texas by Tuesday, June 23. A forecast from NASA’s GEOS-5 model also suggests it could hit parts of Florida and Louisanna around that time too.
If you’re in this corner of the world over the next week, you can expect to see some hazy skies during the day, along with some stunning sunrises and sunsets over the twilight hours.
“If this dust reaches the area we should expect some red skies at sunrise and sunset for a few days and probably drier weather as well,” tweeted the National Weather Service Houston.
The colossal stream of desert dust is traveling along the Saharan Air Layer, a layer of baking hot and dry air in the atmosphere that travels around 10 to 25 meters per second (33 to 82 feet) above the cooler surface air of the Atlantic Ocean. The Saharan Air Layer usually ramps up in mid-June, peaking over the course of summer, and pumps out a burst of activity over the tropical North Atlantic every three to five days.
“We’ve had a few outbreaks, but this one is significant based on size and how far west it is reaching,” Jason Dunion, a meteorologist from the University of Miami and research scientist with NOAA, told the Palm Beach Post. “This one lifted a lot of dust off the Sahara,” he added.
The Saharan Air Layer also tends to suppress hurricane activity, which is welcome news considering we have recently entered an especially rocky hurricane season.
Oddly enough, the Saharan dust can also spark toxic algal blooms in North America. Research by NASA in 2001 found Saharan dust clouds can sprinkle the water off the West Florida coast with iron, which kicks off blooms of toxic algae. Along with turning waters an otherwordly red color, the toxic algae blooms can kill large numbers of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, birds, and can cause skin and respiratory problems in humans.