How African dust is subduing US hurricanes

Residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast were recently met with an unlikely sight.

Dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa recently reached as far west as Houston, Texas, denying hurricanes the moisture or fuel they need to develop.

The dust contributes to a dry, sinking air mass that suppresses thunderstorms and makes it hard for hurricanes to intensify, senior scientist Chris Davis told Bloomberg. Davis is also associate director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Saharan dust generally travels between 5,000 to 20,000 feet in the atmosphere, according to NOAA. The agency adds that the dust reaches Florida and the Gulf Coast when winds pushing the dust are stronger than normal.


Known as the Saharan Air Layer, the dust also helps restore nutrients in the Amazon rain forest as it sprinkles onto soil that is frequently hit by flooding rains, according to NOAA.

Peak hurricane season in the Atlantic basin is from mid-August to late October. Many hurricanes that affect the U.S. mainland originate from Western Africa as tropical waves.

Although Saharan dust is a big obstable for tropical development, storms can still form in the adverse conditions.

As of this morning, Tropical storm Chris is stationary off the North Carolina coast. While Chris is expected to strengthen into a hurricane, the current forecast track from the National Hurricane Center has the storm remaining offshore.