If you’re having problems breathing this weekend, it may be a giant Saharan dust cloud that has traveled 4,000 miles to the United States.
The dust cloud has a size and concentration that experts say hasn’t been seen in half a century.
“This is the most significant event in the past 50 years,” said Pablo Méndez Lázaro, an environmental health specialist with the University of Puerto Rico.
Air quality across most of the Caribbean region fell to record “hazardous” levels and experts who nicknamed the event the “Godzilla dust cloud” warned people to stay indoors and use air filters if they have one.
Many health specialists were concerned about those battling respiratory symptoms tied to COVID-19. Lázaro, who is working with NASA to develop an alert system for the arrival of Sahara dust, said the concentration was so high in recent days that it could even have adverse effects on healthy people.
Extremely hazy conditions and limited visibility were reported from Antigua down to Trinidad & Tobago, with the event expected to last until late Tuesday. Some people posted pictures of themselves on social media wearing double masks to ward off the coronarivus and the dust, while others joked that the Caribbean looked like it had received a yellow filter movie treatment.
José Alamo, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said the worst days for the U.S. territory would be Monday and Tuesday as the plume travels toward the U.S. southeast coast. The main international airport in San Juan was reporting only 5 miles of visibility.
The mass of extremely dry and dusty air known as the Saharan Air Layer forms over the Sahara Desert and moves across the North Atlantic every three to five days from late spring to early fall, peaking in late June to mid-August, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It can occupy a roughly two-mile thick layer in the atmosphere, the agency said.
An enjoyable ‘side effect’ of the dust front are anticipated spectacular sunsets.
Trillions of dust grains will reflect sunlight in every direction, creating milky white skies. The dusty haze reflects some sunshine back to space, cooling the surface a bit where the plume is thickest.
Longer waves of red and orange light tend to penetrate the dusty haze, so sunrises and sunsets are likely to be especially beautiful.
Anyone who captures especially beautiful sunset photos this weekend can send them to email@example.com