Known as the Saharan Air Layer, this year’s occurrence is unusually intense and could set records for its high concentration.

By Cailey Rizzo
June 23, 2020

A nearly 5,000-mile-long plume of dust from the Sahara Desert is expected to arrive in the U.S. later this week.

Although a plume of dust emerges from the desert every year — known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) — this year’s occurrence is unusually intense and could set records for its high concentration, according to The Weather Channel.

A vast cloud of Sahara dust is blanketing the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico on June 22, 2020

Specifically, the dust plume is unique for its thickness, boasting one of the highest concentrations of dust particles reported over the Caribbean Sea in the last 50 to 60 years, Dr. Olga Mayol of the Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies at the University of Puerto Rico explained to The Weather Channel.

The dust plume has already made its way across the Atlantic and its effects are currently visible in Puerto Rico and Antigua. On Tuesday, the dust plume is expected to move north in the Caribbean and by Wednesday it could appear in the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico, along the Texas coast and into Louisiana. By Thursday or Friday, the dust could affect east Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, and the Tennessee Valley.

Looking to the weekend, the dust could affect regions as far north as Washington, D.C.

In addition to affecting visibility on the ground, it could also change the air quality, aggravating conditions for people with asthma, COPD, or allergies.

On a positive note, The National Weather Service tweeted that “the main impact will be some especially colorful sunrises sunsets,” as the dust is supposed to linger at higher altitudes.

And the dust plume could have a good effect on storms this summer as the dry layer of air caused by the dust could help temporarily suppress tropical storms and hurricanes.