Saharan dust may decrease effect of Atlantic hurricanes

Thick clouds of dust rising up from the Sahara Desert are linked to less frequent Atlantic hurricanes, says a new study in Geophysical Research Letters. Studying satellite data from 1981 to the present, American researchers noted that dust clouds were scarce in years with intense hurricane activity, while years with strong dust storms coincided with fewer hurricanes. “While a great deal of work has focused on the links between [hurricanes] and warming ocean temperatures, this research adds another piece to the puzzle,” says study coauthor Jonathan Foley. When Saharan dust storms form, particularly in the summer and winter, millions of tons of sand can travel across the Atlantic Ocean at up to 50 miles an hour, reaching the Caribbean and Florida in as little as five days. Unfortunately, note the researchers, while dust storms may dampen brewing hurricanes, they may also shift them farther to the west, increasing the chance of contact with Caribbean islands and the U.S.