Happy Hurricane Dust (or, Why the Sahara Desert Could Be Your Best Friend)

Jul 20, 2017
Tropical Storm Dorian


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The Atlantic Hurricane Season has been quiet. 

Hurricane experts saw how hot the Atlantic Ocean was and predicted a busy season.

So far, they have been wrong.

It is time to say “Thank You!”, to the Sahara Desert and its dust.

Saharan dust storms are hurricane killers!

Click to enlarge picture of a hurricane killer. Dust from the Sahara Desert pours across the Atlantic. Source: NOAA

Basically, creating a hurricane is a simple equation:

   1 thunderstorm

+ heat (from warm ocean waters)

+ favorable high altitude winds (The winds must be blowing correctly or they will sheer off the top of the storm.)


   A hurricane

Click to enlarge picture of Tropical Storm Dorian which was sucked dry by Saharan dust on July 27. Source: NOAA

Sahara dust storms mess with the high altitude winds. The giant desert generates strong storms that can tower two to three miles high. Strong trade winds can carry floating dust for thousands of miles. The red dust soaks up moisture and finally rains out as far away as Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean Islands and Florida. (Floridians – if you see a layer of red dust at the bottom of a bucket after a rain – that’s probably from the Sahara).

These dusty rains are spectacular – in parts of Southern Europe they are so red that they are called blood rains. It carries valuable iron and nutrients to the Brazilian jungles. Cuba has discovered it carries bacteria and causes pediatric asthma. Here in the US, it can give our Gulf States colorful sunsets.

When it is absorbing the moisture, it dries out the high ocean air masses. Any Atlantic storm trying to develop into a hurricane dries up whenever it reaches the high-flying desert air. We have already watched Tropical Storm Dorian sucked dry before it could hit Florida.

Source: Browning Newsletter, © Evelyn Browning Garriss

The dry airs and winds have forced NOAA to cut down their forecasts for this year’s hurricane season. When they saw how hot the Atlantic was, they had predicted a crazy season. Now they just expect it to be busier than normal.

If you live on the Gulf Coast or near a beach in the East, this is good news. You can thank the Sahara Desert and its sparkling red dust.


About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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I live in Houston Texas area

I live in Houston Texas area .do you think we will get a Hurricane here this season..Bless God i hear thunder outside right now.im glad cause its been hot today..I Love rain .

No one is good enough to do

No one is good enough to do long range forecasts as specific as hurricanes hitting cities. However, the many scientists are seeing weaker trade winds over the next few weeks, which allows more tropical Gulf moisture to enter Texas and the Western Gulf, rather than Mexico and Central America. It sounds like some of that moisture is rumbling outside your neighborhood.

The northern Jetstream has

The northern Jetstream has had a rather winter like pattern for the Great Lakes this summer. We did get some rain in the UP of Michigan. We are about an inch above normal.

I remember prior times when the Jetstream is this far south if there were hurricanes, they seemed to stay offshore and out of the Gulf.

That does sometimes happen.

That does sometimes happen. It sure would be great if it happened this year.

living in michigan they

living in michigan they weatherman always seems to have a hard time predicting the forecast very far ahead. we in the "thumb" are seem to be in a drought compared to the detroit area or parts further north. it seems every weather pattern splits and goes north or south of us. Ponds and water table are low here compared to other parts. no weather experts ever talk about the reason for the splitting of the energy so to speak for our area. i doubt elevation has anything to do with it since this area is basically flat. any thoughts?

They are probably talking

They are probably talking about the elevations upwind from you. The winds from the northwest would hit the higher lands in the "fingers" of the mittens and rain or snow out -- leaving no moisture for the "thumb" downwind.

speaking of dust. i see

speaking of dust. i see redder sunsets and even the moon right now and saw on tv that the smoke from the wildfires out west has come all the way over here. interesting

The Idaho fires are huge and

The Idaho fires are huge and there are other fires in Oregona and Montana. You gave me an idea for next week's blog!

You always make your weather

You always make your weather information easy to understand. Thank you.

Thank you. It's fun to write

Thank you. It's fun to write about the weather.

IF WE get to much rain do

IF WE get to much rain do SETLL HAVE HURRICANE

No. The hot water generates a

No. The hot water generates a very wet storm. The dust keeps it from being a wet and windy storm. You may still have flooding, but you don't have 75 mph winds tearing everything up.


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