As Florida recovers from the tangled algae bloom plaguing its shores, nature may have something else in store for the state: dust from the Sahara.
Saharan dust is moving across the Atlantic and could reach South Florida, resulting in warmer days and less rain, meteorologists said.
As of Saturday afternoon, the dust was near the Bahamas, about 300 miles east of Florida. Satellite images also showed patches of dust over Puerto Rico, with more over the northern and western parts of the island, said Keily Delerme, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Tampa. The Weather Service does not track the speed of the dust as it travels, she said.
The dust could reach South Florida this week, said Ping Zhu, professor of earth and environment at Florida International University. However, he added, it is no reason to panic.
“I don’t think we should worry too much about it,” Professor Zhu said. “So far we don’t see the evidence that it’s very serious.”
This is not a rare occurrence. Saharan dust travels to Florida periodically throughout the year, Professor Zhu said. Thunderstorms and windstorms cause conditions that collect dust, and certain winds blow it west toward the United States.
It’s not clear whether the dust will make it the thousands of miles to Florida, or how long it might linger, Ms. Delerme said.
“It could take a day or two,” she said. “It could fall apart. It couldn’t do it at all.”
If the dust travels far enough, it could result in higher temperatures and less rain for South Florida. Because Saharan dust is so dry, it makes it difficult for water vapor to form in the atmosphere, limiting chances of rain, Professor Zhu said. It could also have a blanket effect, trapping heat on the ground.
However, many Floridians may not notice much of a change.
People in sensitive groups or who have asthma may feel some of the effects, a National Weather Service meteorologist said, because dust can worsen air pollution, allergies and lung problems.
The dryness of the dust could also affect air quality, according to The Miami-Dade County website. On Saturday evening, the air quality level in the district was listed as “moderate”.
Meteorologists said the haze would not be strong enough to affect visibility and threaten air traffic. However, Federal Aviation Administration officials said they often struggle with visibility limits and were “prepared to modify operations as needed.”
This would not be the first time Saharan dust has come out of Africa. Last summer, a dust cloud traveled as far as Texas, and another turned orange in the sky over Europe, with red dust-covered cars and “blood rain” falling in certain areas.
In 2018, the dust turned snow in Eastern Europe orange, and in past years it has prompted both US and international officials to issue health alerts.