Sustainability Environment

‘Godzilla’ Sahara dust cloud headed toward the U.S. largest in decades

Saharan dust plume, seen by the NOAA-20 satellite on June 17, 2020.

Story at a glance

  • During the summer months, a large plume of dust can appear in the atmosphere over the Sahara Desert in northern Africa due to strong warm winds.
  • The mass of dust combines with warm, dry air to form the Saharan Air Layer.
  • The massive plumes travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

A giant Saharan dust cloud moving toward the southeastern U.S. has hit parts of the Caribbean, prompting warnings due to hazardous air quality levels, Reuters reports. 

While strong warm winds over the Sahara Desert carry plumes of sand thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean every year during the summer months, experts say the dust cloud, nicknamed “Godzilla,” is the most dense in 50 years. 

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“This is the most significant event in the past 50 years. Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands,” Pablo Méndez Lázaro, an environmental health specialist with the University of Puerto Rico, told the Associated Press (AP)

The “Godzilla” dust cloud moved into the eastern Caribbean over the weekend and had hit Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and eastern Cuba as it moved up toward Central America and the southern U.S., according to Reuters. 

Residents have been warned by officials across the area to stay home as much as possible and wear a face mask, especially those with respiratory conditions. Many health specialists were concerned about those dealing with respiratory symptoms connected to the widespread coronavirus. 

José Alamo, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said the main international airport in San Juan was reporting only 5 miles of visibility according to AP. 

A model from NASA estimates that much of the dust will dissipate in the Gulf of Mexico before reaching land, and what’s left of the cloud will hit Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia later this week. The cloud is expected to bring beautiful sunsets to parts of Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

The NASA Earth Observatory said the thickest part of the cloud appears to stretch around 1,500 miles across the Atlantic. 

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the mass of dry and dusty air known as the Saharan Air Layer forms over the Sahara Desert and moves across the North Atlantic every three to five days from late spring to early fall, peaking in late June to mid-August.