Across the country Belizeans are experiencing the effects of a phenomena known as the Sahara Dust. A plume of dust from the Sahara Desert in north-central African has made its way across the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. According to an advisory from the National Meteorological Service the dense Saharan Air layer has been supporting hazy and dry conditions, decreased visibility and reduced air quality over much of the Caribbean. In speaking with the Deputy Chief Meteorologist, Ronald Gordon, this is a fairly common occurrence, especially during the hurricane season. The only difference this year is that the dust is more dense.
Ronald Gordon, Deputy Chief Meteorologist: “The latest outbreak we saw it emerge of the coast of Africa about a week or so ago or a little bit more than that and we have been tracking it as it makes its way across the Atlantic and eventually into the Caribbean and now to Central America as we saw this morning. There is no need for major panic this is a phenomenon that occurs every summer. It sometimes it’s more intense than other times and I believe what we have now is a slightly more intense outbreak however this phenomenon typically occurs in the late spring into the summer months and dies off as we go into October-November. Like I said this outbreak is a bit more intense than previous ones so what you’re gonna see is the skies are going to be a bit more hazy, your visibility will be restricted much more than in a normal day, and in terms of what could be the negative impact of course is that it could have effects on people with underlying respiratory conditions, people with asthma and that type of thing and there’s some reports that it could actually affect your skin depending on how sensitive your skin is but apart from that there is no major outbreak or panic from anyone.”
And while the dust may be a problem for persons with allergies and respiratory problems it brings good news as it hinders the development of hurricanes. Gordon explained to us the science behind the dust and hurricanes.
Ronald Gordon, Deputy Chief Meteorologist: “Even though it is something of concern because of the affect that it can have on people like I mentioned with certain conditions however on the positive side is that whenever you have a strong outbreak of Saharan air layer as you’re seeing right now it can suppress hurricane activity. That is because the dust itself is comprised of a very warm, dry area of mass so tropical systems typically need a lot of moisture to develop and intensify and then you have that dry air that’s impeding that. Apart from that it creates a lot of stability in the atmosphere where thunderstorms are not able to grow and extend as much as they should be to form hurricanes and the third factor is the vertical wind shear that is developed due to the strong winds at different levels of the atmosphere that tend to tear hurricanes apart. So on a positive note it will suppress hurricane activity. If it would continue as intense as it is it would be a negative because then the rainfall would go down and then it would go back into the drought situation, we are not seeing that at the moment I must caution what we are seeing is an intense outbreak that will last probably about a week maybe a week and a half into two weeks and eventually it will go away as the wind shifts and we’ll be back into our typical hurricane and rainy season.”
The weather conditions caused by the Saharan Air layer will prevail for the next week or two.