Report: COVID-Stricken U.S. Will Soon Face Massive Dust Cloud From Africa
NBC News reports that an enormous plume of dust originating from the Sahara Desert is expected to cross the Atlantic and blanket parts of the southeastern United States this week.
Some experts say this is the largest and most intense Saharan plume in 50 years. Plumes such as this can aggravate health challenges such as asthma and respiratory illnesses. It can even affect ground visibility. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, the added dust pollution may especially be a problem.
Gregory Wellenius, a professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, said that the potential health impacts might add more pressure to the nation’s health care systems.
Wellenius also said,
Things like the wildfire season, hurricane season and extreme weather events, including this dust storm, may be magnified this year because resources are already stretched thin… Just because we’re in a pandemic world doesn’t mean that other hazards that we tend to worry about aren’t happening.
Thomas Gill, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, told NBC that it isn’t unusual for dust plumes in Africa to be carried by the wind across the ocean. “It’s all part of the same global circulation of the atmosphere,” he explained.
Jason Dunion, an associate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Research Division, explained in a statement that such dust clouds are an annual occurrence and result from ““ripples in the lower to middle atmosphere” that “track along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and loft vast amounts of dust into the atmosphere.”
However, this plume seemed especially intense. For example, National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut Colonel Doug Hurley Tweeted a photograph of the plume he took from the International Space Station.
Gill said, “A dust cloud has to be incredibly large and very thick to be that evident from the space station.”