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Sahara dust effects on our hurricane season - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Sahara dust effects on our hurricane season

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Saharan dust blowing out over the Atlantic ocean Saharan dust blowing out over the Atlantic ocean

It's amazing what a little dust can do to hurricane development. The amount of Sahara dust from the hottest desert in the world can make or break a hurricane season in the Atlantic ocean. Dust storms from the Sahara Desert in Africa can have a profound impact on the development of Atlantic basin hurricanes. In fact, a normal season consists of numerous dust storms limiting tropical development in the central and eastern Atlantic ocean during the months of June and July.

It's not until the dust settles in August through the early fall season, that we normally see tropical development in that part of the world. So, why does Saharan dust hinder tropical storm formation?

First, the dust reduces the amount of sunlight needed to warm the ocean waters to the desired 80 degrees Fahrenheit for tropical storm formation.

Second, the dust layer is usually warmer and drier than the air adjacent to the ocean waters. Thus, the atmosphere stabilizes inhibiting cloud growth and eventual thunderstorm formation.

Third, Sahara dust particles are very small and numerous. Even though they attract moisture and help produce clouds, their reduced size limits collisions needed for rain drop formation.

Just like the dust itself, clouds keep the ocean waters too cool for thunderstorm development.

So, why does the Sahara dust become airborne in the first place?

The Sahara desert is one of the hottest and driest locations in the world. There, hot pockets of air near the sand surface rise and mix with air aloft carrying small particles of dust with them. Then, northeast trade winds push the dust out to sea. Sometimes, this dust can make it all the way across the Atlantic like a few weeks ago. You might recall that we had yellow, hazy skies at that time and you can thank the Sahara dust.

Our 2013 Atlantic tropical storm season has been slow to develop because of an abnormal amount of Sahara dust around the Atlantic. Forecasting the rest of the tropical storm season is challenging this year due to the uncertainty of the abnormal dust storms. The computer models don't handle the dust very well. Scientists from NOAA have lowered their expected number of storms.

Finally, most weather abnormalities can be attributed to El or La Nina or global warming but scientists have yet to correlate these with the Saharan dust.

So, as you can see, a little dust goes a long way when it comes to a tropical storm season boom or bust.

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