A large dust cloud headed for Florida could reduce air quality and lessen rainfall across the southeastern United States this weekend, but it could also lead to more vivid sunsets, lower temperatures in a record-breakingly hot month and stop hurricanes from forming off the coast.
Meteorologists are tracking clouds of dust that have crossed the world to reach as far west as the Caribbean and Florida, AccuWeather reported, which could mean reduced air quality in a part of the country that has been largely unaffected by plumes of Canadian wildfire smoke that brought haze and smog to New England, Chicago and the Great Lakes.
The Saharan dust clouds, which a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite spotted over the eastern Caribbean Sea on Thursday, are predicted to reach Florida by Saturday and could spread as far west as Texas over the weekend.
AccuWeather said the clouds may reduce air quality but could also help to block out sunlight and knock temperatures down following a week of worldwide record-breaking heat that led the National Weather Service to predict heat index values above 105 degrees in Florida on Friday.
This weekend’s dust won’t be as dramatic as the 2020 “Godzilla” clouds that triggered air quality alerts for millions of people. Saharan dust storms are part of a regular meteorological phenomenon, but the 2020 cloud was denser and contained more dust particles than usual, Vox reported at the time. While the air quality is bad news for vulnerable residents, it’s also linked to “vital climate mechanisms” that help fertilize the rainforest, per Vox, and inhibit hurricane development. The Atlantic basin is in the early months of hurricane season but likely won’t see intense tropical developments in areas where dust is present.
“Tropical waves, the origin of many tropical storms and hurricanes, thrive on a moist atmosphere,” AccuWeather Director of Forecast Operations Dan DePodwin said. “When Saharan dust is present, development of these waves can be impeded due to the atmosphere being drier than what is typical.”
What To Watch For
Even more dust. A bigger, denser cloud of Saharan dust is currently being blown off the coast of Africa, and could reach Florida by Tuesday. Air quality is expected to worsen in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and Florida as the dust plume moves westward.
Between 12 and 17. That’s how many named tropical systems NOAA meteorologists predict will develop in the Atlantic basin this season. Of those, as many as nine could turn into hurricanes and up to four may become major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher), according to NOAA.
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