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Weekly Weather Event -Week of June 22nd

June 26, 2020

Every year, an average of 182 million tons of dust from the western Sahara travels west along the trade winds. Depending on the time of year, these large dust clouds can bring much needed phosphorus to the Amazon rainforest or possibly provide the fuel for large algae blooms in the Atlantic Ocean. During the Northern Hemisphere summer, these dust storms head northward, as demonstrated by the storm taking place as of this writing. However, this dust storm is the most extreme dust event of the past two decades both in size and volume, obliterating old records by a significant margin.

Researchers and forecasters throughout the Caribbean reported record-breaking aerosol concentrations and poor air quality conditions as the dust storm passed into the Gulf of Mexico. While dust storms bring needed nutrients to ecosystems throughout the Americas, humans do not do well in high concentrations of particulate pollution. Dust storms tend to cause health problems in people with respiratory conditions and dust allergies. This is especially alarming due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, as studies have shown worse outcomes in areas with high pollution.

While the health impacts of this dust storm are a cause for concern, the dry and dusty air does have its advantages. Large volumes of dust suppress hurricane formation, as the extremely dry air cannot provide the warm, moist air needed to fuel a hurricane. More aerosols in the atmosphere will also cause more scattering of shorter light wavelengths, leading to spectacular sunrises and sunsets.