The vivid, colorful sunset on display in the Baton Rouge area Monday night was caused by dust blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert, a local meteorologist says.
Wind blows the dust nearly 5,000 miles from the desert to the Gulf Coast during the summer months, creating a layer of Saharan air, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Wagner. The light then reflects through the dust particles, brightening sunsets and sunrises.
“Across the northern portion of Africa the winds are out of the east at this time of year and it picks up dust from the Sahara and lifts it to the high levels of the atmosphere,” Wagner said. “That dust gets carried westward across the Atlantic Ocean into our area. The dust is at very high levels like 7,000 to 20,000 feet.”
In addition to providing beautiful sights, the dust layer may also deter the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes, Wagner said.
“It may aid somewhat in lowering the chances of tropical storms and tropical hurricanes when you’re underneath it,” Wagner said. “Because you’re not getting quite as much heating on the surface plus the air associated with the layer is rather dry.”
The plume, which is also hovering over Texas, may contribute to record high heat in areas of Texas this week, according to a USA Today report. Atlanta-based meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted how the dust layer could contribute to that.
“Combined with oppressive heat, the air quality will be like experiencing the desert itself,” Maue tweeted.
A dense plume of Sahara air laden with dust is blanketing eastern Texas. Combined with oppressive heat, the air quality will be like experiencing the desert itself.— Ryan Maue | weathermodels.com (@RyanMaue) July 16, 2018
(https://t.co/Iq6wDz6ztX)@weathermodels_ @CopernicusEU pic.twitter.com/vYLdfR9J7E
Separately, the National Weather Service issued an air quality alert early Tuesday morning for the Baton Rouge area that lasted until the end of the day. The ozone was considered to be in the "orange level," according to the alert, which means that it could be unhealthy.
Officials asked active adults and children, the elderly and people with respiratory diseases to avoid outdoor exertion. They also encouraged people to reduce emission by driving less and waiting until after 6 p.m. to refueling vehicles or lawn equipment.