"We started really noticing it yesterday."
The skies might look a tad hazy this weekend – and not just because of the clouds.
A Saharan dust plume, also known as the Saharan Air Layer, is partly responsible for the murky appearance of the Florida sky. A chart released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research displays the plume originating from the African desert and crossing the Atlantic Ocean to reach the U.S. in the Southern states and as far as the Northeastern states.
Jack Cullen, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama, said plumes such as this one happen every year, but this one is likely more newsworthy because it’s one of the biggest plumes of the past few years.
WATCH a NASA animation of the dust plume’s progress across the Atlantic
THIS IS WHAT the dust plume looks like from a satellite vantage point
SAHARAN DUST is not necessarily a bad thing for us
Reports from multiple news sources suggest it’s the biggest Saharan plume in 50 years.
"It made it (here) yesterday – really the day before, but we started really noticing it yesterday," Cullen said Friday. "Really, the only impact is you notice the milky sky yesterday – even before the clouds took over. It makes it look like it’s cloudy when it’s not really cloudy. It’s not enough dust that you’re going to notice it settling on stuff. By the time it’s made it this far over all the way from Africa, it’s mixed out a lot. But it does make for some nice sunrises and sunsets if real clouds aren’t in the way."
The dust could potentially have a small effect on those who are extra prone to allergies, Cullen said, but will most likely go unnoticed.
Plumes have unique properties that can act to suppress hurricane formation and intensification, according to a National Weather Service’s social media post. Cullen explained tropical weather suppression will have the greatest impact off the African coast, where it’s the most dense.
This isn’t the time of the year hurricanes are developing off the African coast, though; they’re closer to home, he said. It will have only a slight impact here, he said.
"That dry air is not conducive for development of thunderstorms," Cullen said. "You need those thunderstorms to generate tropical systems. It does help suppress temporarily, but it’s one of the factors among several factors. It’s not going to suppress it all year."