'Godzilla' Sahara Dust Cloud Heading for U.S. May Be Biggest for 50 Years

The "Godzilla" dust cloud from the Sahara heading towards the southeastern U.S. is one of the biggest recorded for 50 years. The cloud is expected to bring beautiful sunsets to states including Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

The plume, which is believed to be the thickest in decades, has now reached the Caribbean Sea. According to the Associated Press, experts have nicknamed the plume "Godzilla," with Pablo Méndez Lázaro, from the School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico, telling the agency: "This is the most significant event in the past 50 years. Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands."

We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west central Atlantic. Amazing how large an area it covers! pic.twitter.com/JVGyo8LAXI

— Col. Doug Hurley (@Astro_Doug) June 21, 2020

On Friday, Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist and lead hurricane expert, told the website: "According to scientists that I have gotten some information from, they're saying this is an abnormally large dust cloud. One of the things I noticed from this is the dust started coming off the coast of Africa several days ago, in fact maybe over a week ago. And it's still coming. It's almost like a prolonged area of dust."

The NASA Earth Observatory said the thickest part of the plume appears to stretch around 1,500 miles across the Atlantic. The plume appears every year and is the result of atmospheric conditions in the Sahara desert, Africa, at this time of year. The Saharan Air Layer forms over the desert between spring and fall, forming a layer around two miles thick. It moves across the Atlantic towards the U.S., slowly dissipating. Depending on its strength, dust particles from the plume can reach the U.S.

Derek Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Section at the NOAA's Center for Weather & Climate, told Newsweek in an email the effect of the dust in the atmosphere may mean people in affected areas see more vibrant sunsets. He said the sun's light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow and the gasses that make up the atmosphere naturally scatter bluish hues, in shorter wavelengths, rather than yellow and red ones, with longer wavelengths.

"This is why our skies are blue even on very clear days," he said. "Sunsets take on more yellow and reddish hues because they pass through more of the atmosphere to reach the observer, multiplying this effect to make the light reaching the observer even redder." When there is a lot of dust in the atmosphere, this effect can be amplified. "[It] can also subtract more of the light earlier in the sunset (or longer into a sunrise), leading to longer-lasting, duskier tones that most people find pretty."

In a blog post from the CIMMS Satellite, which is affiliated with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, research meteorologist Scott Bachmeier said that on June 21, surface visibility in Trinidad and Tobago was reduced to below half a mile. In Barbados, it was restricted to three miles. The following day, satellite images showed the plume continuing to move west, reaching Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Sea.

An updated #GOESEast look at the Saharan dust plume moving over the Caribbean on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/NpHScxF3Av

— NWS Eastern Region (@NWSEastern) June 21, 2020

According to the Weather Channel, dust from the plume will reach U.S. states by Thursday and Friday. An animation from NASA's GEOS-5 model published by the suggests the plume could also reach Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, as well as states further north and east.

An updated (Monday June 22nd) computer model forecast of atmospheric dust for the next 10 days. pic.twitter.com/1nTg8vd9M7

— NWS Eastern Region (@NWSEastern) June 22, 2020

Experts have also warned the dust plume could have an impact on people with respiratory problems. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America said dust particles released from the Sahara plume could make asthma and allergy symptoms worse. It advises people to close their windows, use air cleaner, wear a mask and check the air quality before going outside.

sahara dust
The Sahara dust plume is moving west and is expected to reach states in the southeast on Thursday and Friday. NOAA