Coming This Way: Huge Saharan Dust Plume Will Affect Americans' Health

TUESDAY, June 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A pandemic, a slew of protests -- and now a huge blanket of Sahara Desert dust will engulf parts of the United States this week.

That's what some weary Americans will have to brace themselves for by Wednesday or Thursday, meteorologists and health experts warn.

The dust plume, drifting from North Africa across the Atlantic to North America, occurs a few times every year, the experts said. But this week, the cloud of dust is especially huge, and it's already hit the Caribbean.

"This is the most significant event in the past 50 years," Pablo Méndez Lázaro, an environmental health specialist with the University of Puerto Rico, told the Associated Press. "Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands."

Health experts across the Caribbean are warning people, especially those with asthma and other respiratory problems, to stay indoors and use an air filter if they have one.

A dust-laden haze is already blanketing Puerto Rico, the AP reported, with the international airport in San Juan reporting visibility at just 5 miles. The dust cloud is expected to affect atmospheric conditions until at least late Tuesday, when it is expected to begin moving toward the southeastern United States.

The plume is expected to hit Gulf Coast areas of states like Texas and Louisiana by Wednesday or Thursday.

Dr. Len Horovitz is a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He said the Saharan dust plume "is an annual event that occurs each late spring to early fall. Particulate matter of this dust cloud contains more silica, and is a hazard to those with underlying lung conditions. But even normal healthy people are subject to irritant effects. Masks and air filters, as well as avoiding outdoor activities, are recommended."

Dust-laden air will put added strain on anyone battling the respiratory effects of COVID-19, as well, the experts said.

There is one up-side to the advance of the dust plume: fewer violent summer storms.

"The dry nature of the air mass that originates from the Sahara limits thunderstorm and cloud development, which are needed for the development of tropical cyclones," David Wally, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Upton, N.Y., told The New York Times.

More information

Have asthma? There's tips on dealing with polluted air at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

SOURCES: Len Horovitz, MD, pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; The New York Times; Associated Press

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