Sahara desert dust brings heat and dry air to Tampa Bay

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A large dust cloud from the Sahara Desert blew into the Gulf of Mexico last weekend and will float over the Tampa Bay area in the coming days.

Covering parts of central and southern Florida, the cloud of dust brings higher temperatures and hazy, dry air. Tampa won’t see its usual rain and scattered thunderstorms this week due to dust, said hurricane specialist Jason Dunion of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“That dust is the reason it’s going to be 95 degrees today,” he said.

According to Juli Marquez, meteorologist for Spectrum Bay News 9, an area of ​​high pressure air over Tampa is also contributing to the lack of rain this week. The dry air, combined with high pressure, makes it difficult for thunderclouds to form.

The dust cloud is part of the Saharan Air Layer, a natural layer of dry, dusty air that sits approximately 1 mile above sea level. The layer forms when strong winds in Africa pick up dust from the Sahara Desert region and transport it east across the Atlantic. This particular dust plume likely left the African coast about a week ago, Dunion said.

Dust clouds like the one Florida is currently experiencing are a normal result of the Saharan air layer, Dunion said. Dust outbreaks tend to increase in late June and peak in July and early August.

“It’s your typical dust outbreak, just over Tampa,” Dunion said. “We can expect more in the coming weeks.”

In addition to the heat and dryness, Floridians might also notice particularly vibrant sunrises and sunsets due to the dust, Marquez said.

These dust clouds generally do not pose a threat to human health. People with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory conditions may notice the change in air quality more than others, Marquez said, but the air quality index shows moderate to good conditions. in Florida this week.

The Saharan air layer actually helps protect Florida from tropical storms and hurricanes, according to meteorologists and storm experts. The dust suppresses the formation of storms over the Atlantic by introducing dry air and preventing sunlight from heating the water, Yale Climate Connections author Jeff Masters wrote in an email. at the Tampa Bay Times. Without moist air and warm ocean water, hurricanes have a harder time developing and sustaining themselves.

Dust outbreaks over Florida could be an important defense against storms this hurricane season, which scientists predict will be more active than average. But the dust clouds typically clear up by mid-August, Dunion said, just as hurricane season hits its peak.

It’s probably no coincidence that the peak of the hurricane season in late August and September comes as dust clouds in the Saharan air layer dissipate, Dunion said. Still, residents of central and south Florida could dodge some potential storms, thanks to the dust.

The current cloud over the Tampa Bay area is just the beginning of periodic dust outbreaks that will blow into the Gulf of Mexico over the next few weeks. Every outbreak is likely to bring vibrant sunsets, high temperatures and a break from the rain.

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