What is Saharan dust and why is it good for Tampa Bay?

Weather

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s back – and we love it! Saharan dust is stretching across the Atlantic, which lowers our potential for tropical development.

Saharan dust starts over the Sahara Desert of Africa as a large area of dry, dusty air. The layer, or mass of air, can get caught up in atmospheric winds and travel great distances – often crossing the Atlantic Ocean during the early parts of summer.

Wait…is the dust harmful?

Nope! Most Saharan dust stays about a mile above the surface. Since it’s suspended so high in the atmosphere, that means we won’t be breathing it in.

And to clear up one of the most common misconceptions, this is not a typical “dust storm.”

The dust can, however, make for spectacular sunsets thanks to Rayleigh scattering off of the dust particles.

Keeping tropics quiet

When Saharan dust is traveling over the Atlantic as it is now, the dryness and strong wind shear typically squashes the potential for tropical storms and hurricanes to develop and weakens any existing storms.

“Saharan Dust is usually around during the beginning of the season to help suppress formation, but when the hurricane season really ramps up in the fall, it’s not really a factor,” Chief Meteorologist Steve Jerve said.

Saharan dust “season” runs from mid-June to mid-August and peaks in late June. Scientists track the layer of dry, dusty air via satellite.

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