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Thicker-than-usual Saharan dust cloud arrives; could cause breathing issues

Saharan dust cloud over Cuba in 2020

A giant cloud of dust from the Sahara desert, shown here over Cuba on June 23, is sweeping across Texas. The dust raises the particulate matter in the air, making for more colorful sunrises but also potentially exacerbating respiratory issues. Image from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite

A thick cloud of dust from Africa’s Sahara desert has arrived in the Highland Lakes, obscuring long-range visibility and turning the sky an opaque color. 

Clouds of dust from the Sahara often blow across the Atlantic, driven by easterly winds, so it’s not uncommon for these plumes to appear in Central Texas. However, this cloud is even larger and thicker than usual.

“Although it is fairly common for clouds of Saharan dust to reach the U.S. coastline from late June to mid-August, this week’s dust cloud is quite impressive for its size, density, and the amount of dry, dusty air that it contains,” said Bob Rose, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist, in an email Wednesday, June 24. “It currently spans about 3,500 miles across the Atlantic from the west coast of Africa to Central America and contains less than half the moisture of the normal tropical atmosphere.”

The cloud is made of very fine sand, which will fall from the sky in small amounts. The dust is harmless, but it could exacerbate respiratory issues.

“If the sky is clear, the added dust will likely lead to more colorful sunrises and sunsets over the next few days,” Rose said.

Forecasts show more dust will arrive during the early to middle part of next week, June 28-July 4.