A massive plume of dust from the Sahara Desert is traveling across the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to reach the U.S. this weekend. The dust plume, known as the Saharan Air Layer, forms between 5,000 and 20,000 feet above the Earth's surface from late spring through early fall every year.
It travels across the Atlantic every three to five days, pushed by strong winds and tropical waves. While it is common for dust plumes to reach the Caribbean Sea, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico, this plume is unique due to its large size and high concentration of dust particles.
The plume has traveled over 4,000 miles and is currently depositing a thin layer of dust on surfaces across Puerto Rico. It is expected to reach the Gulf of Mexico and head into the United States by Friday. The plume will then be blown towards the northeast and could reach the Ohio Valley over the weekend.
The dust particles can aggravate symptoms of people who suffer from allergies or other conditions such as asthma and COPD.
While the dust plume does create hazy skies, it also causes brilliant sunrises and sunsets as the particles refract the sunlight into a wide-range of magnificent colors.
Astronaut Doug Hurley shared a photo of the dust plume from the International Space Station.
"We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west central Atlantic. Amazing how large an area it covers!"
We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west central Atlantic. Amazing how large an area it covers! pic.twitter.com/JVGyo8LAXI
— Col. Doug Hurley (@Astro_Doug) June 21, 2020