Saharan dust blows into territory

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ST. THOMAS - The hazy air hanging around the territory this week is carrying Saharan dust, which can cause allergies to flare up.

Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes issued an air pollution alert Wednesday for the dust from the African desert.

The dust causes the skies around the Virgin Islands to be hazy, which reduces visibility and results in poor air quality, she said.

A result of the dust storms and warm air, the sand rises above the desert and is carried from the North African desert westward over the Atlantic Ocean and across the Caribbean, according to DPNR.

Saharan dust is not harmful. However, people with allergies or respiratory ailments should remain indoors when possible and consult their physicians or health care professional for further guidance, Barnes said.

Saharan dust storms pass through the Caribbean region several times a year, primarily in the spring and summer months.

"We've actually had very small amount of concentration of particles," Jose Alamo, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in San Juan, said Wednesday.

"It started in the middle of last week, on Wednesday or so," Alamo said. "We started seeing a lot of high clouds and hazy skies."

He said the territory gets the dust coming in when the trade winds are coming directly from the east.

The forecast models are showing that the territory may get some rainy weather this weekend that could tamp down the dust.

"We have some moisture coming in on Sunday," Alamo said.

He said the concentration of dust particles in the air over the territory and Puerto Rico is actually quite low and still within safe levels.

"The thing is that a lot of the time it looks hazy and really it's high clouds. And we've had a lot of that," he said.

For more information contact the Division of Environmental Protection at 773-1082 or go to or​

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email

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