A massive plume of Saharan dust has shrouded swathes of the Caribbean, turning blue skies into a milky-brown haze…
And sparking health warnings across the region as air quality fell to unhealthy levels.
Strong warm winds over the Sahara desert typically whip up sand at this time of year and carry it thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.
This year, the dust is the most dense in a half a century, according to several meteorologists. The thick smog has sharply reduced visibility.
#SaharanDust will stick around through the week, with some improvement expected overnight into Monday and again on Thursday due to two tropical waves.— TTWeatherCenter (@TTWeatherCenter) June 21, 2020
Little overall rainfall is forecast from TW12, with higher shower and thunderstorm chances with TW13. https://t.co/dliPIhdqjG pic.twitter.com/ETKaDoVMAy
Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, usually a prominent sight towering over Kingston, were hidden behind an oppressive white cloud.
Ok, last dust pic for today and this one is perhaps the most incredible yet. The comparison photos were sent to me from Mirco Ferro who lives in St. Barthelemy. Check the dates in the photos (top is from March) – both are unfiltered or altered in any way. #SAL #DUST pic.twitter.com/FBwOG5ly1E— Mark Sudduth (@hurricanetrack) June 21, 2020
“I’m not sure if it’s sneaking in through the vents, because the air inside doesn’t feel the same,” said Sarue Thomas, 31, from her office in Kingston, where temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Celsius and the air was stiflingly thick.
“This is something that we’ve not ever seen before,” said Thomas, adding that her three-year-old son had developed a dry cough.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen since we’ve kept records,” said Evan Thompson, director of the meteorological service division in Jamaica.
“We are seeing a much thicker mass of dust particles suspended. It is a lot more distinct and noticeable.“
A significant concentration of #SaharanDust has reduced visibility across Trinidad to 1 KM, with air quality at unhealthy levels. Remain indoors if possible.— TTWeatherCenter (@TTWeatherCenter) June 21, 2020
Video: Ryan Ali, Diego Martinhttps://t.co/NHomjZSanH pic.twitter.com/ZmS8GJFS74
The dust cloud moved into the eastern Caribbean at the weekend and by Tuesday had smothered Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and eastern Cuba, continuing its advance up and westward toward Central America and southern United States.
Officials across the region warned locals to remain at home when possible and wear a face mask, especially if they already had a respiratory condition, as the dust was a powerful irritant and could contain pathogens as well as minerals.
“The use of a face mask is recommended in this situation, in addition to already being necessary for prevention of COVID-19,” said Cuba’s top weather man, Jose Rubiera, on his Facebook page.
“Those with asthma and people with allergies should be careful and stay at home.“
The Saharan dust typically “helps build beaches in the Caribbean and fertilizes soils in the Amazon” in addition to affecting air quality, according to NASA, which has captured satellite images of the plume.