Saharan Dust Plume Clouds Skies Over Texas

The weather phenomenon, which is common this time of year, has reached parts of Texas, creating hazy skies and perhaps some respiratory challenges.,

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Over the past few weeks, the United States has experienced unprecedented heat, a hurricane and tornadoes. Now, the country is set to see another weather phenomenon as a plume of dust from the Sahara drifts across the Atlantic Ocean, creating hazy sunsets and possibly respiratory issues.

How does dust from the Sahara make its way across an ocean and into U.S. cities? Blame the wind.

“It’s pretty much just carried by brisk upper-level winds that bring you dust particles, all the way across the Atlantic,” said Sammy Hadi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The occurrence is common during this time of the year in and around the Gulf of Mexico, where it creates hazy or gray skies and even orange sunsets, Mr. Hadi said.

“Usually July is pretty much the premiere period for Sahara transport,” he said.

These spells of Saharan dust typically peak from late June through August, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The base of the dust plume starts about a mile above the ground, and the plume can extend up to 2.5 miles into the atmosphere, according to scientists at the agency who track the movement of Saharan dust at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

In Texas, those upper-level winds will be swift enough to carry Saharan dust across much of the state, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“African dust is expected to continue spreading inland, until reaching across most of the state with the exception of the far northern Panhandle,” the commission said in an air quality forecast.

By Sunday afternoon, some cities in Texas had already seen some hazy skies thanks to the Saharan dust.

Travis Herzog, a meteorologist with an ABC affiliate in Houston, shared images on Twitter of gray skies in Houston and Galveston.

“Hello Saharan dust,” Mr. Herzog said. “Normally the sky is blue in between the clouds, but today it is a hazy gray. Most of these fine dust particles are suspended 10,000-15,000 feet above ground, but some do fall low enough where we can breathe them in.”

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a volunteer spokesman for the American Lung Association, said that in some cases Saharan dust could cause people — especially those with respiratory issues like asthma — to cough and experience chest discomfort.

“Our lungs are beautiful organs, and they only like air,” Dr. Galiatsatos said. “The lungs will do everything possible to make sure those particles don’t get down there.”

To avoid any symptoms from breathing in Saharan dust, Dr. Galiatsatos suggested limiting time spent outdoors. Wearing a face mask is also a good way to prevent inhaling particles from the dust plume, Dr. Galiatsatos said.

“A face mask is a key factor here,” he said. “A face mask is your best friend.”

For the beginning of the week in Texas, the air quality index for much of the state is forecast to be in the “moderate” range, which is acceptable but can pose risks for those who are sensitive to air pollution.

Despite the possible air pollution issues, there is one upside to a Saharan dust plume — an Atlantic Ocean free of tropical storms or hurricanes. As of Sunday night, the National Hurricane Center predicted no tropical cyclone activity over the next two days. That’s partly because of the Saharan dust.

“Saharan dust does inhibit tropical development,” Mr. Hadi said, adding that it doesn’t necessarily inhibit the chance of rain in an area. “It’s not like a clear-cut thing where if you have Saharan dust you won’t get any showers at all.”

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