Weather Service: Huge wave of Saharan dust headed for territory


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ST. THOMAS - The Saharan dust that has been hanging over the area for the last month is about to get worse.

Robert Mitchell, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in San Juan, said the territory will see a tropical wave come through during the weekend, followed by a huge wave of dust.

"It's going to be a high concentration of dust," he said.

He said the last dust surge will move out of the territory by today. A few nice days will follow before the tropical wave brings showers to the area on Saturday.

By Sunday evening, the showers will dissipate and the weather will dry out, bringing a huge surge of Saharan dust to the region.

"Sunday through the early part of next week, we're going to be in the dust again," Mitchell said. "It's typical this time of year."

Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes issued an alert Wednesday about the possible increase in air pollution.

The dust, which comes from the Sahara Desert in Africa, 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.

However, Saharan dust also brings a benefit: It comprises a layer of extremely dry, dusty air, which acts to suffocate the development of thunderstorms and the organization of tropical weather systems.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Saharan Air Layer can act to weaken a tropical cyclone by promoting downdrafts around the storm, while its strong winds can substantially increase the vertical wind shear in and around the storm environment.

Saharan dust is not harmful. However, people with allergies or respiratory ailments should remain indoors when possible and consult their physician 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.

For more information, contact the Division of Environmental Protection at 773-1082 or go to www.nasa.gov or http://weather.noaa.gov/weather/ current/TIST.html.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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