NOAA: Saharan Dust Clouds Suppressing Hurricanes

Jul 7, 2015

South Florida's air has been dustier than usual this week. 

The dust has come from across the Atlantic, originating from dust storms in the Sahara desert and being pushed towards the Americas by winds and tropical waves.

While the current influx of dust-filled air may be a hazard for people with respiratory conditions, scientists say it also brings with it a more positive effect.

Jason Dunion, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains how Saharan dust storms can serve as hurricane suppressants on this side of the Atlantic.

“These Saharan air layers, as we call them, have a lot of dry air, there’s a lot of aerosol dust, and a lot of strong winds," Dunion says. "All three of these factors work against hurricane formation."

A study that Dunion contributed to tracked the past few decades and found a link between years with greater Saharan dust activity and fewer hurricanes.

"Whether an individual storm is going to get affected by one of these Saharan dust outbreaks is still a question at times," Dunion says, "but overall we think of these Saharan dust storms as hurricane suppressants."

This may be good news for South Florida, because this year’s dust has been more intense than usual. Dunion says there’s been “a much drier and much dustier start to the season.”

The magnitude of this dust influx can be seen in the image above, a satellite image taken Tuesday. The green area is dust making its way across the Atlantic.

Scientists say it’s too early to conclusively predict the intensity of this year’s hurricane season, but if this heightened dust activity is any indicator, South Florida might be spared from an excess of tropical storms.