If you missed it, Eric and I have decided to start doing tropical updates for you every week or two through hurricane season. We had our first one last week, which was rather detailed. This week, we’ll be a little more succinct!
Tropical outlook in a sentence
The Atlantic basin continues to be void of much interesting tropical activity, and it will likely continue that way for the next week to 10 days.
Dust, dust, dust. And shear. Those two things are characterizing the Atlantic basin today. Dust from the Sahara Desert continues to roar across the Atlantic. This tends to be a fairly common feature in the early parts of hurricane season. We’ve noticed it a lot more in recent years, and I’m not sure if that’s because of some functional change or just because our observational capabilities have gotten so much more sophisticated. Either way, the last few years have seen a lot of Saharan dust in the basin in June and July.
Widespread Saharan dust is spread out across virtually the entire Atlantic basin right now, which should help limit tropical activity for a little while longer. (University of Wisconsin/NOAA)
From the satellite image above, you can see where dust (yellow/orange/red) is located, as well as cloud cover (gray). Virtually the entire Atlantic basin is littered with Saharan dust right now. This includes the Gulf of Mexico. Some of that thicker dust is likely to appear in Houston’s skies in the days ahead.
Why does this matter? Well, Saharan dust is extremely important globally. It’s a major source of nutrients for phytoplankton, and it helps to fertilize the Amazon. It obviously doesn’t come without problems, as the dust can irritate those who have sensitive respiratory systems, allergies, or asthma. It reduces air quality, and we may well see that here in Houston for late this week.
But from a tropical point of view, Saharan dust can help hinder systems from developing. The dust is indicative of dry air in the atmosphere. Obviously, hurricanes need moist air. Think about our weather here in Houston. On days with a “cap” in the atmosphere, there’s a barrier that exists preventing or limiting how high cloud tops can go. That reduces our thunderstorm chances. The Saharan air layer can act as a “cap” as well, preventing storms from billowing up. It doesn’t entirely prevent tropical storms or hurricanes from developing, but it can severely limit how well developed they can become. So curse the dust when it irritates your sinuses, but thank it for helping to keep the early part of tropical season under wraps.