TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A large plume of dust will move into the Gulf of Mexico from the Sahara desert this weekend and into next week. Strong winds kick up the dry dirt from the desert, and as it is mixes into the upper levels of the atmosphere, those winds carry it thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

This is quite normal in May, June and into early July. Satellites can see and track thicker dust plumes from space as it makes the atmosphere milky.

Saharan dust as seen from satellites in low earth orbit. Credit: NASA

There are numerous pros and cons to the dust plumes moving into the Gulf of Mexico and southern U.S.

PROS

  • Limits tropical activity: The dust is very dry and tropical cyclones needs moisture to begin to organize. If a storm has already formed, the dust can weaken the storm from the dry air and the strong winds embedded within the plume.
  • Colorful sunrises and sunset: When the dust layer is on the thinner side as it arrives, the sunrises and sunsets can be quite colorful including deep reds and orange colors.
  • Natural fertilizer: The dust contains a lot of minerals and as it settles to the ground, it acts as a natural fertilizer to many plants and ocean ecosystems like coral reefs.

CONS

  • Hazy Skies/Sunrises/Sunsets: When the plume is very dense, the skies in the middle of the day appear a milky white. In the evenings, the sunsets can be muted because the light is trying to travel through more of the atmosphere and the thick plumes blocks out much of the light.
  • Enhance algae blooms: While some nutrients is good for ecosystems, too much of it can enhance and help feed algae blooms as the dust settles to the ground. Studies have shown iron in the dust can spread red tide.
  • Irritation: Thick plumes of dust degrade the air quality and can cause itchy eyes, noses and throats. Those with lung problems can also be affected.