Saharan dust plume arrived in Nebraska on Sunday

A major Saharan dust plume, which had been blown across the Atlantic Ocean, contributed to the orange sunset during the evening of Sunday, June 28.

NEBRASKA — A plume of dust from the Sahara Desert has made a 5,000-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean reaching Nebraska on Sunday.

Dust storms from Africa’s Sahara Desert are nothing new, but the dust storm which blew across the Atlantic last week was one of the most extreme on record, according to the National Weather Service.

“Dust from Africa can affect air quality as far away as North and South America if it is mixed down to ground level. But dust can also play an important ecological role, such as, fertilizing soils in the Amazon and building beaches in the Caribbean. The dry, warm, and windy conditions associated with Saharan Air Layer outbreaks from Africa can also suppress the formation and intensification of tropical cyclones,” according to an article by NASA.

“While Saharan dust transport across the ocean to the Americas is not uncommon, the size and strength of this particular event is quite unusual,” NASA atmospheric scientist Colin Seftor said. “Also, if you look off the coast of Africa you can see yet another large cloud coming off the continent, continuing to feed the long chain of dust traveling across the Atlantic.”

“On June 18, NASA’s Earth Observatory noted the thickest parts of the plume appeared to stretch about 2,500 kilometers, 1,500 miles, across the Atlantic Ocean. By June 24, the plume extended over 5,000 miles,” according to the NASA article.

The dust started moving off the African continent around June 15 and made its way across the Atlantic, moving over the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico on June 24.

By June 28 the dust plume had made its way over the United States and reached Nebraska.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, enough dust blanketed Omaha on Sunday to noticeably affect air quality, according to the AirNow Air Quality Index published by the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Sunday afternoon, the EPA ranked particulate matter (dust) in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa at 140, which is at the upper end of the range (101 to 150) considered unhealthy for those with lung and heart conditions. Anything above 150 is considered unhealthy for the general public. Those who were vulnerable to air pollution were advised to remain indoors Sunday and reduce outdoor physical exertion.

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