Sahara Dust Storm Tracker: Where Is the Plume Now and What Is Its Path?

Vast swathes of the Caribbean region are currently shrouded in dust that has travelled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert.

Satellite images show the plume stretching all the way from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, although there appears to be two major concentrations on either side of the ocean.

The leading edge of the first concentration arrived in the Lesser Antilles on Sunday, before large quantities reached Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Monday causing hazy skies and poor air quality.

Now the dust is spread across much of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Cuba and the island of Hispaniola, extending as far west as parts of Central America and the Yucatán Peninsula.

The dust plume is expected to push northwestwards, reaching parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday and Thursday, The Weather Channel reported.

Over the course Thursday and Friday, forecast models indicate that the dust could affect parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. At the weekend, the dust will likely move northeastwards over the southeastern U.S., perhaps reaching as far as the mid-Atlantic region, The Washington Post reported.

However, the most concentrated parts of the dust plume will likely have become more spread out, or less concentrated, by this point, making the effects less noticeable.

Nevertheless, another major concentration of dust currently located off the coast of west Africa is already moving westwards across the Atlantic, and is on course to reach both the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.

If you would like to track the movements of the dust, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an interactive satellite map based on satellite imagery that you can view here.

Colorado State University's Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere also provides an interactive satellite map based on data from the NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system, which you can view here.

In terms of forecasts, NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio has created a video that shows the movements of Saharan dust across the Atlantic over the next few days.

And this Weather Channel report contains a moving graphic that visualizes the movement of the dust plume in the Western Hemisphere over the next few days.

Saharan Dust
Aerial view of the sky with a red hue due to the arrival of Saharan dust in the Chetumal area on June 23, 2020 in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Medios y Media/Getty Images

While the size and concentration of the latest dust plume is particularly unusual, the transport of Saharan dust over the tropical Atlantic is a regular occurrence at this time of year.

Strong winds across the desert sweep up tiny particles of sand and minerals, carrying them into a portion of the atmosphere known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL).

The SAL forms between late spring and early fall, extending between altitudes of 5,000 and 20,000 feet. This hot, dry air mass is blown westward across the ocean every few days between late June and mid-August, often carrying vast quantities of dust with it.