(NEXSTAR) — Summer is on its way and some new weather and allergy considerations are coming along with it. Saharan dust has increasingly become a notable visitor to Texas over the summer months — but is it expected to blow in anytime soon?
After all, as KXAN News’ Chief Meteorologist David Yeomans explains, right now is typically when the the whole process starts happening.
“Saharan dust travels our way in the summer,” Yeomans says. “This is the time of year when big, windy thunderstorms over the Sahara Desert kick up massive plumes of dust into the lower and mid-levels of the atmosphere.”
It’s during the summer months, typically, when these plumes of dust (which is technically a soil mineral), travel thousands of miles on easterly winds from Africa across the Atlantic — bringing the grit to the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern U.S. Plumes can sometimes be a mile high, Yeomans says.
You’ll usually know when a plume’s blown in due to the signature haziness it adds to skies. With the dust in the air, it can spell some trouble for sinus and allergy sufferers — especially those with conditions like asthma.
Allergist Dr. Thomas Leath, of Allergy Partners of Austin, told KXAN News he sees an uptick in patients whenever the African dust arrives.
“If they see the air quality is poor because of African dust, maybe spend a little less time outside, maybe not exercise outside. If they do go out and do those things, they’ll probably want to come home and shower and do a sinus rinse to rinse some of that dust out of their nose and sinuses.”
Yeomans points out that it’s important to remember that Saharan dust is an irritant, not an allergen. So, while it can worsen allergic symptoms, you won’t have a new allergy to worry about.
So for this year (2023), is Saharan dust expected — and when?
Yeomans says it may still be a bit too early to tell.
“The amount of dust kicked up into the atmosphere depends on how active the ‘wave train’ of disturbances is in the African monsoon,” he says. Here, monsoon refers to the shift in winds that causes rainy and dry seasons — which typically arrives in June in Africa.
Dust travel is most common between late June and mid-August and new dust outbreaks occur about every 3-5 days, Yeomans says.
And despite how pesky it can be, Saharan dust isn’t without a few silver linings.
Because the soil sometimes adds a reddish tint to the air, plumes can create a lavender haze to skies at dusk (shoutout to Taylor Swift). These “purple sunsets” are often seen over Texas when dust is particularly active.
Unintentional beauty aside, Saharan dust also adds one practical benefit. Since the air is extremely dry, it can inhibit formation and strengthening of hurricane systems when it’s traveling over water. Last year’s hurricane season was particularly quiet, according to experts, and Saharan dust is one major reason why.
Another interesting benefit: Yeomans says the mineral is protein-rich and the stuff that falls into the ocean turns into food for marine life.