Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

GRAPHIC: See how the dust affects the weather

Massive dust cloud over Atlantic inhibits tropical storms

The red oval and arrow indicate an area of dusty, warm, dry air over the eastern Atlantic that is making tropical storm formation less likely over the next few days.


The red oval and arrow indicate an area of dusty, warm, dry air over the eastern Atlantic that is making tropical storm formation less likely over the next few days.

No tropical storms are likely to form in the southern Atlantic Ocean over the next few days.

For this, forecasters say, we can thank dust.

High winds have swept tiny sand and mineral particles from Africa into a huge dust cloud, about the size of the United States, pushing west across the ocean.

"It's just a huge area of dusty dry air, and it sits over the marine layer of the ocean," said Mike Clay, chief meteorologist at Bay News 9.

The dust and accompanying dry air tend to inhibit tropical storm formation, experts say.

Tropical storms need moisture and rising air to form. The dust cloud prevents air from rising.

It also can block sunlight, potentially lowering sea surface temperatures to levels less compatible with tropical weather. Tropical storms generally form in water that is 79 degrees or warmer.

None of this means hurricane season is over. In fact, after the dust ball, the season could still become active. And storms theoretically could still form in the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea, currently unaffected by the dust ball.

But dust already has had impact. The dry air from Africa helped dismantle Tropical Storm Dorian last week.

"Hurricanes don't like dry, and that's what killed Dorian," said George Sambataro, chief meteorologist at PC Weather Products.

Dorian sprang from the warm waters around Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa, a primary breeding ground for major storms.

But none are likely to develop there for as long as the latest dust cloud exists, Sambataro said.

It probably won't linger for much more than a week, said Chris Dolce, a meteorologist for the Weather Channel.

"It's usually a temporary thing," he said.

That means the tropics could regain moisture and return to normal by mid-August, just before hurricane season begins to peak, Clay said.

At the start of the season in June, meteorologists had predicted 2013 would be an especially active year for tropical storms.

Though the dust cloud could suppress tropical weather for the next couple of weeks, scientists said it won't necessarily have a long-term effect on the seasonal forecast.

And not everyone is convinced of its short-term significance.

"If there are fewer storms in the Atlantic in the next week or two, there probably would have been anyway," said Peter S. Ray, a professor of meteorology at Florida State University.

He said mineral dust has a slightly negative effect on tropical storm development. But some scientists believe dust clouds can actually contribute to development, enhancing the production of condensation and clouds in the atmosphere.

Will we see the dust in Florida?

Unlikely. It seldom gets this far west.

Dolce said the current cloud is predicted to pass above Puerto Rico today.

But it's so big, Clay said, it could touch the lower tip of the state.

"There would be red sunsets and sunrises,'' Clay said, "and there would be a kind of haziness in the sky."

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at or (727) 893-8804. Follow him on Twitter@zacksampson.

Massive dust cloud over Atlantic inhibits tropical storms 08/01/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 11:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Deputies find unidentified decomposing body in Dunedin canal

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies found an unidentified male body floating in a Dunedin canal Monday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said.

  2. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  3. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  4. Fennelly: About time Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    It's Andy's time.

    And it's about time.

    Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk has been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had been eligible since 2009, a ridiculously long wait for someone who scored 640 goals, including a record 274 on the power play.

    LEFT: Dave Andreychuk talks at the podium as he is honored with a statue in front of the now-Amalie Arena.
  5. British government says 75 out of 75 buildings failed fire safety tests


    LONDON — Britain on Monday confronted a rapidly growing fire safety crisis after tests of the exterior cladding on dozens of public housing towers revealed a 100 percent failure rate, raising fears that this month's deadly inferno in London could be repeated elsewhere.

    Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, presents his first Chrono-Hologram in Paris, France, in 1973. A Spanish judge on Monday June 26, 2017, has ordered the remains of artist Salvador Dali to be exhumed following a paternity suit by a woman named by Europa Press agency as Pilar Abel, 61 from the nearby city of Girona. Dali, considered one of the fathers of surrealism in art, died in 1989 and is buried in his museum in the northeastern town of Figueres. [Associated Press]