Update: What we know about the Saharan Dust headed to Virginia

We talked to the local air quality expert

Update: What we know about the Saharan Dust headed to Virginia
The dust likely won’t get to the Mid-Atlantic until late Friday or Saturday. (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It’s a normal process that happens every year but it’s grabbing headlines in a big way this year. The plume of Saharan dust has now come ashore in the gulf coast states and it’s the biggest in years.

The dust rode the Trade-winds to get here, which are the same winds that carry hurricanes toward North America (the dust tends to diminish tropical storm formation). Check out the view from the gulf coast!

In an email, Dan Salkovitz, a Meteorologist at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said air quality could go downhill on Sunday. An air quality alert is in effect on Sunday for Central Virginia with a code orange, which means the air quality could be unhealthy for sensitive groups (those with respiratory issues such as asthma, or heart issues such as COPD).

“Based on upwind fine particle concentrations in Kentucky and Tennessee, the air quality forecast for Richmond for Sunday is now Code Orange for particle pollution due to possible effects from the Saharan dust. This means that those people in sensitive groups should reduce strenuous outdoor activities,” said Salkovitz.

Interested in finding out what the air quality is near you? Check out this link to see just how the Saharan Dust is impacting Virginia and surrounding areas. Thanks to Science Museum of Virginia’s Chief Scientist Jeremy Hoffman for this information!

As far as the brilliant red and orange sunsets go, Dan isn’t fully convinced that the dust will mix out and make it close enough to the surface in order to produce these. “Sunrises and Sunsets: this is one thing I’m not entirely sure about. This is dust and not smoke. It might just be gray and hazy versus brilliant red. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Here’s how we expect this weekend to go:

First, when the dust arrives, it gets hazy. We are confident this will happen.

Second, the dust MIGHT produce brilliant sunrises and sunsets. This is because the sunlight is getting scattered and reflected and by the dust. Often, the sun will rise and set as a brilliant red. This is similar to sunrises and sunsets near wildfires. BUT WE’RE NOT SURE THIS WILL HAPPEN.

Third: Respiratory distress. The dust can sometimes cause trouble for people with asthma or dust allergies. This is something we’ll need to watch as the dust likely won’t get to the Mid-Atlantic until late Saturday or Sunday. Use the links above to monitor the air quality.

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