It's Not A Bird, It's Not a Plane, It's a Cloud of Dust

The thick dust will deepen the reddish color of the rising and setting sun.
The thick dust will deepen the reddish color of the rising and setting sun. Screenshot
If you are a sunrise or sunset fanatic, you will likely want to glimpse the sky early Tuesday morning and into the evening as a dust plume from the Sahara Desert sweeps across the Greater Houston area.

This is common for this time of year as storm activity picks up in Africa, kicking up the dust, which gets carried across the Atlantic Ocean – eventually ending up in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Eric Berger, meteorologist at Space City Weather, said the dust particles will appear as a haze in the atmosphere, most noticeable until Thursday when the cloud starts to taper off.

According to Berger, both the dust plume and a weaker high-pressure system brings slightly cooler weather for this week, “The dust particles reflect a little bit of sunlight, so instead of temperatures being 100 degrees, they may be around 97 degrees or so,” he said.

Despite this slight heat relief, the dry air works to prevent cloud and thunderstorm formation, with only a 20 to 30 percent chance of afternoon showers expected throughout the week.

Tim Cady, meteorologist with the National Weather Service covering Houston and Galveston, said residents shouldn’t be too concerned about the air quality as the dust will only affect it moderately because it settles far above the air they breathe.

“A lot of the dust is thousands of feet up. That is why we will not have seriously bad air quality,” Cady said. “If you’ve got a medical condition that makes you more sensitive to poor air quality, it is something you want to be aware of, but it is not something like what we saw with the wildfires earlier this summer where the air quality was unhealthy for everyone.”

Dust concentrations are expected to be highest in the afternoon or evening. Those with pre-existing health issues who, who work outside or go on walks may opt to go indoors during these hours.

Berger said these plumes tend to come throughout July and into early August. He anticipates one to three more before the end of the season, which could protect the region from any tropical systems that may start picking up in the coming weeks.

“This sort of thing is handy when you’ve got lots of tropical activity going on because as the dust moves, it can choke off tropical storms in the Atlantic,” Berger said. “We are not quite at that part of the season yet, but we are about two or three weeks away. I would certainly welcome dust at that point.”
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.