What Impacts West Tennesseans Can Expect from the Sahara Dust

JACKSON, Tenn. — Earlier today I had a chance to talk to biologist, Dr. Thomas White. He’s originally from Crockett County but has spent the last couple of decades conducting research and working in Puerto Rico and is currently working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He told me that it’s important to have a little perspective when it comes to talking about dust from the Sahara Desert affecting South, North, and Central America. It’s nothing new!

Q: Did the dust harm the wildlife in Puerto Rico this week?
A: Those dust clouds are naturally occuring phenomenon and they’ve been occurring for centuries – for thousands of years! So I don’t think it impacts them that much.

Q: So what impacts did it have on the ecosystem if at all?
A: There is some evidence that indicates that it can be beneficial because it deposits a lot of dust particles and stuff that have what they call diatomaes earth and it does help to fertilize some of the systems. And over thousands and tens and tens of thousands of years it has contributed some to corals and especially some of the smaller Caribbean islands that have derived from corals.

Q: There were some suggestions on social media that there could be bugs traveling in this dust. Can you support or dispel that rumor at all?
A: When you think about the physics of it, for a dust particle to travel all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, it has to be so tiny that it’s far smaller than the smallest insect.

Q: Did you all have rain this week? and did it leave a residue on the surface of vehicles in your area?
A: You could really see the dust on Monday and Tuesday – even without rain! It looked like you car had been sitting in a dusty area. For example, if you leave your car in a long-term parking of an airport, after a couple of weeks you come back and you’ll see it’s got a little bit of a film of dust on it and it would accumulate in a matter of hours!

Q: The two questions I have received the most on social media are about how the dust would impact our gardens and how it would affect a swimming pool.
A: It’s not going to affect anyone’s gardens negatively, and as far as swimming pools the amount of dust that would fall into a swimming pool would be, especially in West Tennessee, it would be such a small amount that the filters themselves would be able to handle that. It shouldn’t be a major concern.

Q: Was there anything else you thought was interesting about this particular dust cloud that moved through this week?
A: One of the interesting things I noticed was on Monday night when the dust was really thick, you could look at street lights or shine a flash light in the air and see the dust particles floating in the air. They’re larger than smoke particles so you can see them more easily!

Q: What impacts do these dust clouds have on humans?
A: It’s recommended that those with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma COPD like that or bronchitis should avoid being outside during the worst part of the dust because it could aggravate those conditions or cause breathing issues. People with normal respiratory function – no big deal. I had to work outdoors up in the forest during the dust and I did notice a little bit of sinus irritation but other than that it wasn’t a big deal.

The dust will eventually move out of West Tennessee Saturday night and completely leave by Monday. Another cloud of dust from the Sahara desert is moving into Puerto Rico now, so stay tuned to Storm Team Weather for the latest forecast including when we may see another wave of dust move into our area.

Categories: Weather Blog