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Saharan dust making its way to Houston

Low concentrations of dust currently over Houston; impacting air quality.

HOUSTON — Low concentrations of Saharan dust have already made the long journey across the Atlantic and have arrived in the skies over southeast Texas. 

You may notice the sky looks a little extra hazy this morning thanks to the dust. Some of it is mixing down to the surface and will impact the air quality today.

Credit: KHOU
Credit: KHOU

There are some positives to the natural cycle of saharan dust transport... it does help to suppress storm formation across the Atlantic among other things.

Credit: KHOU

READ: More storms expected in new hurricane season forecast

Credit: KHOU
Credit: KHOU

What Is Saharan Dust?

The name is as it suggests - Saharan dust is dust that originates from the Sahara Desert in North Africa.  But what causes it to cross the Atlantic?

Credit: KHOU

Thunderstorm development in the Sahel, a semi-arid region to the south, leads to large dust storms when these storms fall apart. Outflow from these storms kick up dust and sand from the desert which gets lofted into the air and carried on trade winds across the Atlantic.

Credit: KHOU

As the dust moves across the Atlantic, it blocks out sunlight when the concentration is high enough, leading to a drop in water temperatures. Additionally, the dry and dusty air lowers the humidity over the water, stunting cloud growth and preventing storms from becoming organized.

Credit: KHOU

In addition to stunting tropical development, Saharan dust also carries nutrients that feed wildlife in the oceans, promoting a healthy ecosystem.  Occasionally, dust can also make it over the Americas, leading to hazy skies and rarely poorer air quality.

What is an Air Quality Alert?

An Air Quality Alert is issued when there are high levels of pollutants in the air on a certain day. The four major pollutants that are measured are ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide as regulated by the Clean Air Act.

To put it simply, calm winds and clear skies can lead to stagnant air. The pollution we put out every day is what leads to higher counts of the four major pollutants. It can create hazy skies and right before sunset can be the worst.

This is very common and it can irritate asthma and emphysema.

How long does an Air Quality Alert last?

An Air Quality Alert can on by issued one day at a time, according to weather.gov. The alert must be renewed each day.

Can I go outside during an Air Quality Alert?

According to the National Weather Service, poor air quality can aggravate health issues such as asthma, heart conditions, and other respiratory conditions. Seniors, children, and those with compromised immune systems should be particularly careful.

Those who are vulnerable like children, seniors, and those with respiratory issues should stay indoors if possible. If you have to go outside, limit it to strictly essential activities.

Texas air quality forecast

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality produces air quality forecasts for the state.

You can check the air quality where you live here or in metro areas below:

Interactive map of air quality

Monitor the air quality using the interactive map below:

Follow the KHOU 11 Weather Team for updates:

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