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Huge dust storm affects hurricane season

Massive Saharan dust storm quiets early August hurricane formation

August 5, 2013

Westward swirling clouds of dust from the Sahara Desert might be putting a damper on Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, a new study suggests. The dust blocks sunlight and inhibits the formation of storms.

A massive dust storm that formed over the Sahara Desert early this week has now pushed out over the tropical Atlantic, and will sharply reduce the odds of tropical storm formation during early August.

The dust storms form when hot desert air from the Sahara collides with cooler, dryer air from the south to form winds that loft sand and dust into the atmosphere, where they are snared by strong trade winds and blown westward, across the Atlantic Ocean.

Some years, millions of tons of the fine particles form thick clouds that can traverse the oceans in as little as five days. But other years, for reason still not understood, hardly any dust storms form at all.

June and July are the peak months for dust storms in the Southwest Sahara, and this week’s dust storm is a typical one for this time of year.

August 15 marks the beginning of the busiest portion of the Atlantic hurricane season and lasts through mid September.

Forecasters still believe this will be a busy season. On Friday, Phil Klotzbach and William Gray, two Colorado State University climatologists, slightly downgraded their original predictions dropping the number of hurricanes from 9 to 8 and the number of major hurricanes from 4 to 3. The waters off the African coastline in the main development region for hurricanes are slightly cooler than normal and the added dust from the Saharan dust storm will keep storms from forming for at least the next few weeks.

They also put the probability of at least one major hurricane striking the U.S. coastline at 64 percent, down from 72 percent in their earlier outlook.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will update its outlook on Aug.8.

It remains to be seen how the dust cloud will dissipate over time, and what the forecast holds for later in August and into the “climatological” peak of hurricane season, which occurs around Sept. 10.


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