Giant Saharan Dust Plume to Paint North Texas Skies Orange This Weekend

North Texans will likely notice dusty skies and orange sunsets this weekend thanks to a giant Saharan dust cloud.
North Texans will likely notice dusty skies and orange sunsets this weekend thanks to a giant Saharan dust cloud. Mike Brooks

Expect to breathe in some dusty, African air when you step outside this weekend. A Saharan dust plume is traveling more than 7,000 miles to touch down in Dallas.

The cloud is a bone dry, dusty mass of air that forms over the Sahara Desert in North Africa, said Juan Hernandez, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Then, strong winds whisk it away across the Atlantic Ocean.

North Texans can also expect to behold strange skies Thursday through the end of the weekend, he added.

“We’re likely going to see some hazy skies, some orange sunrises and sunsets,” Hernandez said.

Also known as the Saharan air layer, the dust clouds typically appear starting in mid-June through early fall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During that time, they can travel as far west as Florida, Central America and the Gulf Coast.

One of these air layers moves over the tropical North Atlantic every three to five days, according to the NOAA’s website.

It’s not unusual for Saharan plumes to travel this far west during the summer months, Hernandez said. This one is significant, though, in both its density and reach.

“It’s stronger than usual,” Hernandez said. “It hasn’t been this strong in — some people are saying — in 50 years.”

Most in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will likely be able to recognize the dust cloud, which will cast a milky haze throughout the air. Yet the thickest concentration of the plume is expected to travel slightly further east, Hernandez said.

The dust cloud is so gargantuan it can be viewed from weather satellites, Hernandez said. In fact, astronauts have even gotten a bird’s-eye view of the air mass from outer space.

“We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west central Atlantic,” NASA astronaut Col. Doug Hurley said in a tweet. “Amazing how large an area it covers!”

During the summer months, the dust can even help prevent hurricanes from forming, Hernandez said. Although it’s hurricane season, meteorologists usually see a lull in tropical cyclones when the Saharan dust clouds appear.

“It’s because that dust is very dry; you need moisture for hurricanes to develop,” Hernandez said. “Also, that layer of dust is very warm, which inhibits the development of tropical cyclones.”

People with respiratory issues may also want to skip enjoying the great outdoors over the next few days, Hernandez said.

Thursday and Friday’s air quality forecasts have been given an orange color ranking by AirNow, the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality data website. That means it’s expected to be unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as those with severe allergies.

As if it weren’t already a good idea to wear a mask when leaving home, now might be an even more fitting time.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter