Under the Saharan Dust


We couldn’t see the mountains very well this afternoon, from Kingston. They faded into a creeping mist – the thick, concentrated dust from the West African coastline, which is expected to get thicker and deeper tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday.

Our Meteorological Service explained that the “plume” of dust from the Saharan Air Layer is not dangerous on contact – that is, it’s not radioactive or anything like that. It is not an unusual phenomenon – in fact, it’s an annual event – but this year it is much more intense than usual and seems to be traveling further. It is likely to end up in the Gulf of Mexico, after traveling thousands of miles. The only positive I have heard of is that it may affect the hurricane season, in terms of suppressing the storms – at least for now.

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Before (in March) and after, in the eastern Caribbean. (Source: Twitter).

There is also the heat. This is proving a force to be reckoned with. It attacks you from all angles. We can hide in air-conditioned cars and buildings, but it is still out there. Here’s what we have to look forward to for the rest of the week. Also, today was “feels like” 41° C and whatever that feels like – it was.

WhatsApp Image 2020-06-22 at 1.44.25 PM

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has put out a warning to the public, and we should heed it; especially those who already have weakened immune systems and our seniors (as has been noted for COVID-19).

Of course, Jamaicans always take serious things and make jokes, although it has been quite challenging to do so recently. Someone asked on Twitter: “If Saharan dust sets on the floor, and I walk on it, is it safe to say I’ve set foot on African soil?” Another posted a photo of a man with a camel walking across the desert, captioned: “Me on my way to and from work today.”

The steady flow of COVID cases (“imported” and “import-related”) is not encouraging. It is concerning that the “import-related” cases are apparently staying in home quarantine and infecting family members. So today we had two of those cases, plus four imported. And so it goes on.

Here is the Ministry’s warning:

Jamaicans urged to reduce dust exposure

KINGSTON, Jamaica. June 22, 2020: In keeping with reports from The Meteorological Service of Jamaica, the Ministry of Health & Wellness wishes to caution members of the public to guard against the effects of the Saharan dust, which is expected to affect the island starting today through to Thursday.

Excess exposure to the dust particles can have severe health effects, including increased risk of respiratory and related illness, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and respiratory infection and allergies. Skin and eye irritation can also be experienced as well as there is an increased risk of water borne illness.

Members of the public and especially persons who are already experiencing or are prone to respiratory illnesses, should exercise great care, by observing the following precautions:

  • Staying indoors as much as possible
  • Wearing face masks
  • Wearing long sleeve clothing and protect eyes
  • Washing hands regularly and avoid touching of eyes
  • Ensuring water that is harvested is treated
  • Covering water used for domestic purposes including drinking and food preparation.

Members of the public are asked to call the Ministry of Health & Wellness at 888-ONE-LOVE (5683) for further information.

Meanwhile, way up north, the Arctic is on fire. It is almost as hot there as in the Caribbean. If we don’t understand what is happened to our planet…if we don’t connect the dots between what we are doing to our environment and the coronavirus… I don’t know what our future looks like (“our” meaning the human race).

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A satellite photograph of wildfires within the Arctic Circle on June 20, 2020.

The situation is going to get very much worse. I would add “before it gets better,” but will it get better?

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The dust cloud visible from space, moving across the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo: NOAA)

3 thoughts on “Under the Saharan Dust

  1. It s actually a fairly common occurrence in the middle of summer as these tiny dust particles get swept up into the air by dust storms in the Sahara and then picked up by the easterly winds in the upper atmosphere all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

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    1. Yes, and it’s expected to get worse before it gets better! Hopefully by the weekend it will be on its way…Wish us luck! The heat is also stupefying.

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