Saharan Dust: What is it and what will it bring?

The Saharan Dust Layer Moves into the State This Weekend

Zach's Saturday Evening Forecast (6/27)

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) -By now, you’ve probably seen a lot of talk about Saharan dust heading for us this weekend. But what exactly is it and is it a big deal for us here in Region 8?

What is it?

All the dust is part of the Saharan Air Layer or SAL, for short. Waves of dust are sent from the continent of Africa into the air every year, especially June through August.

According to NOAA, SAL has around 50% less moisture than the typical tropical atmosphere. This helps keep any tropical activity at a minimum as trade winds push the cloud of dust across the Atlantic Ocean.

How will the dust impact us in Arkansas?

As always, misconceptions about Saharan dust are running wild on the internet and social media. So let's talk about the truth to what you're seeing on your news feeds.

Visibility will drop like during a dust storm

Not really. It won’t be as bad as a dust storm, or a haboob, like Arizona or West Texas frequently see. The dust is usually thousands of feet in the air so any drop in visibility at the surface will be minimal. Blue skies will turn greyish brown and clouds may blend in with the haze at times. You’ll be able to drive like normal but crop dusters and other planes may run into issues.

Stay inside, dust can make you sick!

Only for sensitive groups. Anytime air quality dips, you’ll see warnings and advisories for those with preexisting conditions to limit their time outdoors. Usually, it’s due to pollution or ozone but dust in the air can make the air seem thicker. If you have allergies or respiratory conditions, you’ll likely want to spend more time indoors than outdoors this weekend. And no, Covid-19 does not spread in the Saharan Dust Layer.

It won’t rain with Saharan dust in the air.

Yes and no. While the dust does suppress tropical development and storm activity, we could still see a few pop-up showers over the weekend. Something to watch for though is dust leftover from any rain. When water vapor in a cloud condenses, it has to condense on something. Raindrops don’t form out of thin air. Water in a gas state will condense and attach itself to smoke, pollutants, or dust particles. So as those water droplets make it to the surface as rain, you might find trace amounts of dust left after the water evaporates.

Sunsets will be amazing!

Normally yes but this batch of SAL is pretty thick. A thin layer of dust will make for gorgeous sunsets as the sky turns orange, red, and pink. But with a thicker layer of dust, all the colors of the spectrum scatter better giving a dull or one-color sunset. The sun would look like a flashlight in a very hazy sky.

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