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On Florida’s horizon: Sahara Desert dust, brilliant orange sunsets and allergies

A storm last summer, carrying 24 tons of dust across the Atlantic from Africa was so massive it was nicknamed Godzilla, and astronauts could see it from the International Space Station.

Massive plums of dust, as seen from a satellite, rising from Africa’s Sahara Desert and moving across the Atlantic Ocean toward the United States and South American.
Massive plums of dust, as seen from a satellite, rising from Africa’s Sahara Desert and moving across the Atlantic Ocean toward the United States and South American.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Sunsets across Florida in the coming days could become even more spectacular, as clouds of dust from the Sahara Desert sweep in from across the Atlantic Ocean.

The plume is expected to dampen storm activity but worsen air pollution, causing trouble for some people with allergies and other respiratory problems. Some health experts say symptoms could mimic those of COVID-19.

NASA is monitoring the dust, which was swept off Africa by strong winds swirling across the deserts of Mali and Mauritania. Trade winds are carrying the plume across the ocean.

“It’s going to be a major dust outbreak,” said Joseph Prospero, professor emeritus at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, who pioneered research into African dust clouds.

Dry winds carrying the particles could help smother storm systems by drying out the humid tropical air that feeds turbulent weather across a well-traveled route for hurricanes, experts say.

“You could still have showers and thunderstorms, but the coverage would be much less if you didn’t have Saharan dust,” said Sammy Hadi, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Miami.

Scientists and health experts have long monitored the plumes for their effect on weather, the climate and the oceans. It’s unclear how severely the incoming plume of dust will affect health.

Winds last summer carried nearly 24 tons of dust from the Sahara Desert across the Atlantic to North America and South America. The 2020 dust storm was so massive that it was nicknamed Godzilla, and astronauts at the International Space Station could see it.