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Cloud of Sahara Dust Is Unlike Anything in 50 Years

Experts says size and concentration haven't been like this in half a century
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 22, 2020 2:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – A vast cloud of Sahara dust is blanketing the Caribbean as it heads to the US with a size and concentration that experts say hasn’t been seen in half a century. Air quality across most of the region fell to record “hazardous” levels and experts who nicknamed the event the “Godzilla dust cloud” warned people to stay indoors and use air filters if they have one. “This is the most significant event in the past 50 years,” said Pablo Méndez Lázaro, a specialist with the University of Puerto Rico, of what's known as the Saharan Air Layer. “Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands.” Extremely hazy conditions and limited visibility were reported from Antigua down to Trinidad & Tobago, with the event expected to last until late Tuesday, reports the AP. The New York Times reports the cloud is expected to hit Gulf States like Texas and Louisiana on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Many health specialists were concerned about those battling respiratory symptoms tied to COVID-19. Lázaro, who is working with NASA to develop an alert system for the arrival of Sahara dust, said the concentration was so high in recent days that it could even have adverse effects on healthy people. Pulmonary specialist Dr. Len Horovitz agrees, telling the Times that "particulate matter of this dust cloud contains more silica, and is a hazard to those with underlying lung conditions. But even normal healthy people are subject to irritant effects." Other potential impacts in the US: Sunrises and sunsets could be more spectacular, and the dry quality of the cloud can limit the development of thunderstorms and clouds, which can impede the formation of tropical cyclones.

(Read more Saharan Air Layer stories.)

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