Will Saharan dust save S. Fla from oppressive rain and humidity?

A plume of Saharan dust moves off the coast of Africa across the tropical Atlantic.

A massive plume of Saharan dust is making its way across the Atlantic offering South Florida a potential break in the endless days of rain, humidity and thunderstorms.

The dust, clearly visible on GOES-East satellite images, reached the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas this morning, according to the National Weather Service in Miami.

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While a mat of moist air flows stubbornly high in the atmosphere, NWS meteorologist Andrew Hagen said the Saharan dust is lower down, existing between 5,000 and 15,000 feet, which will help decrease rain chances Friday and Saturday.

“On average per year we have about two pretty good SAL (Saharan air layer) events, but this looks like only a little bit of the SAL will make it over South Florida on Friday,” Hagen said. “When it’s strong, there’s a milkiness to the sky and sometimes you even see particles on cars.”

West Palm Beach forecast

While this may not be a strong Saharan dust event, it will keep rain chances Friday and Saturday below 50 percent in the metro areas of Palm Beach County, Hagen said.

“The SAL is playing some role there,” he said.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Since June 1, coastal areas of Palm Beach County have averaged 4.3 inches of rain, according to district gauges. That’s 1.1 inches above what’s normal for the second week in June and adds to the whopping 15.3 inches of rain the area got in May.

For the 16-county region managed by the district, May rainfall totaled 11.45 inches, about 7 inches above normal.

“This is the third year in a row Mother Nature has dealt us a bad hand and brought us an extreme beginning to the wet season,” said district Chief Engineer John Mitnik during a press conference last week on how the district is handling all the water. “May brought more than 300 percent of above normal rainfall.”

Jason Dunion, a meteorologist with the University of Miami who tracks Saharan dust, said weather balloons launched from Puerto Rico on Wednesday showed the air 1 to 3 miles into the atmosphere was up to 50 percent dryer than what would be expected because of the Saharan air layer, or SAL.

A Saharan air layer is made up of sand and mineral particles that are swept up from 3.5 million square miles of desert and carried by air currents 4,000 miles west across the Atlantic. The largest plumes can be the size of the continental U.S., and while June is the beginning of the Saharan dust season, the most potent plumes appear in July and August.

Saharan air layer shown in oranges and yellows on June 13, 2018. The orange area off the Mid-Atlantic is dry air.

That’s when large thunderstorms start a march across Africa, south of the Saharan desert, and sweep dust high into the atmosphere before spinning it out over the Atlantic with easterly waves that can form hurricanes.

“That tropical wave season starts to ramp up in July and August and we think there is a link between it and when we see the Saharan air layer get bigger and much more far reaching,” said Dunion, who is also a research scientist with NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division.

RELATED: GOES-East satellite to revolutionize weather forecasting

There still could be soupy humid air at the surface, but clouds typically collapse once they hit the Saharan air layer.

“It tends to stifle thunderstorms, and could be a little warmer because it will clear out the clouds,” Dunion said.

This year, Dunion is tracking the Saharan dust with the supercharged GOES-East weather satellite that was launched in November 2016.

It carries the Advanced Baseline Imager — a 16-channel camera built by the Melbourne-based Harris Corp. The previous satellite had just five channels. Combining two infrared channels from GOES-East gives researchers a better image of the Saharan dust, and one that crosses the Atlantic from Africa into the Gulf of Mexico.



Today’s weather “wild card” will impact South Florida thunderstorms

An extensive layer of Saharan dust is wafting toward South Florida with wisps already hitting the Bahamas, forecasters said this morning.

The National Weather Service in Miami said the leading edge of the dust plume should reach South Florida today, drying out levels of the atmosphere at about 5,000 feet and affecting afternoon showers.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

The dry Saharan air layer can be seen clearly heading toward Florida in this highlighted water vapor image.
The dry Saharan air layer can be seen clearly heading toward Florida in this highlighted water vapor image.

The coverage of storms today will depend on how much Saharan air makes it into the area. With enough surface moisture present, meteorologists said there will be some locally heavy rainfall and gusty winds up to 40 mph.

Read: Why it’s eerily quiet in the Atlantic after busy start to hurricane season

“The threat for strong storms today will not be as high as recent days,” Miami forecasters wrote in a morning discussion. “The wild card will be how much dry air intrudes during the afternoon which may enhance dry air entrainment in updrafts for some stronger gusy winds in the 40 to 55 mph range.”

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The biggest concern with today’s storms is lightning with the strongest rains expected in the interior and west coast of the state.

High temperatures in Palm Beach County are expected to reach 91, which is about normal for this time of year. The heat index, however, could hit 105 near Lake Okeechobee.

Sunday was the first day in 30 days where the high did not hit 90 or above. Sunday’s high reached only 87 degrees in West Palm Beach, which is 3 degrees below normal.


Tuesday is expected to be even drier as the Saharan dust makes it further into the Peninsula.

With plenty of sunshine Tuesday, temperatures are expected to be warmer, ranging in the low 90s on the coast to mid-90s inland.

Heat advisories are possible Tuesday with 105-plus heat index temps across the interior and Gulf coast.

The heavy Saharan dust is being blamed for the lack of tropical activity in the Atlantic basin this hurricane season. But, AccuWeather hurricane expert said there may be a slight chance of something spinning up off the coast of Africa late this week.


The National Hurricane Center said in its most recent forecast that tropical development is not expected during the next five days.

Kottlowski said the chance of a storm is a long shot.

“Any system that tries to get going over the western Atlantic late in the month and into early August will likely struggle with a vast amount of dry air and disruptive winds,” he said.