Desert dust is the least of our worries

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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Measuring roughly 3,000 miles from east to west, and approximately 1,200 miles from north to south, this place is as large as the 48 contiguous states that comprise the U.S.A.

Although it’s best known for being dry, this place is bordered on three sides by huge bodies of water – the Atlantic Ocean to the west; to the east lies the Red Sea; and to the north is the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s also extremely old – formed some 3 million years ago.

And even though it’s located far, far from the traditional and historic World War II battlefields that our history books detailed in Normandy, Okinawa, Midway Island, and Berlin, this place also played a major role in the outcome of that worldwide military conflict.

And on Sunday afternoon, I was among hundreds of thousands of individuals in areas along the southeastern coastline to breathe in its dust.

We were warned several weeks ago that one of the thickest dust clouds to blow westward from the Sahara Desert may impact the United States.

I, along with probably many others, thought this would be a “stretch” to happen. It would mean that sand from that desert located in Northern Africa would be collected during a wicked wind storm and then that gigantic plume of dust would be carried 5,000 miles across the Atlantic and into our backyards.

Well, it happened and it seems that this isn’t a rare occurrence. Dust from the Sahara Desert commonly makes its way annually across the Atlantic, tracking into areas such as Florida, the Caribbean Islands, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The one that arrived here locally over the weekend was listed as one of the largest dust plumes in 15-to-20 years.

The dense dust cloud turned a beautiful Saturday into a hazy, milky Sunday. For those who suffer from respiratory ailments, the presence of those extremely fine dust particles only further complicates their health. Medical experts suggested those individuals to limit their time outdoors until the winds carry the dust plume away.

According to NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division (HRD), the Saharan Air Layer is typically located between 5,000 and 20,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. It is transported westward by bursts of strong winds and tropical waves located in the central and western Atlantic Ocean at altitudes between 6,500 and 14,500 feet.

On June 18, NASA’s Earth Observatory noted the thickest parts of the plume appeared to stretch about 1,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. By June 24, the plume extended over 5,000 miles.

Colin Seftor, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said that while Saharan dust transport across the ocean to the Americas is not uncommon, the size and strength of this particular event is quite unusual.

And he made another recent observation, saying, “if you look off the coast of Africa you can see yet another large cloud coming off the continent, continuing to feed the long chain of dust traveling across the Atlantic.”

I guess that means more historic, multi-million-year-old dust from the Sahara is poised to enter our nostrils.

But in the grand scope of things we’re already experienced in 2020 – a worldwide medical pandemic that has drastically changed our daily lives; reports of murder hornets; and social unrest / cries for change in the wake of another senseless killing of a Black individual at the hands of law enforcement – dust from the Sahara Desert is the least of our worries.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.  

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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