Saharan dust could bring startling sunsets to Florida this week


Cocoa Beach at sunrise. - PHOTO BY BILLY MANES
  • Photo by Billy Manes
  • Cocoa Beach at sunrise.

Saharan dust coming to your hometown may sound scary, but it will actually make for astonishing sunsets in Central Florida.

The dust cloud that rides strong winds across the Atlantic Ocean is expected to reach Florida around Friday and linger in the atmosphere through the next week. The dust has both positive and negative effects, creating stunning sunsets and potentially dampening tropical storm activity while also raising the possibility of adverse reactions to people with respiratory issues. 

So, what is this Saharan dust and where did it come from?

According to the NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) is a mass of very dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert during the late spring, summer, and early fall.

These clouds of dust can form with tropical waves and they ramp up their activity for mid-June to mid-August.

NOAA says on their website that "SAL has unique properties of warmth, dry air and strong winds that can act to suppress hurricane formation and intensification."

So these clouds can stop the formation of hurricanes and as a bonus can give us prettier sunrises and sunsets.

Our skies are usually blue because of the natural gases that make up the atmosphere, but a heavy load of dust in the atmosphere can enhance the effect of sunlight, leading to longer-lasting, duskier colors that cause vivid sunsets and sunrises.

   NOAA also mentions on their website that "because of the special way Saharan dust scatters sunlight, the best times of day to spot it are usually a few hours after sunrise and in the late afternoon. During the day, the sky will have a hazy white look and sunsets will take on an orange glow."

However, to make sure that everybody stays safe, people with asthma and other chronic lung diseases need to take measures to reduce their contact with the dust and limiting their time outdoors during the passage of the Saharan clouds.

Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters, and consider supporting this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you Central Florida news, and every little bit helps.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.