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Saharan dust in Omaha

Hazy sky in Omaha
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Posted at 4:46 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 19:36:57-04

On Sunday, some of the Saharan dust you’d likely been hearing about over the past week finally made it to parts of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

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Saharan dust hangs in the sky in Omaha.

The Saharan Desert is huge! It covers about 3,600,000 square miles of Africa. So yeah, that’s a LOT of sand and dust! Because of the way prevailing winds blow from Africa towards the US near the equator, some of the weather in the southern United States comes from across the Atlantic Ocean! That’s what the dust has done this time as it has many times before and will do many times in the future. (Hurricanes do something similar, too.)

So, what’s different about it this time? Mainly that this dust plume was bigger than usual. As it traveled from Africa towards the US, scientists could easily track it via satellite images.

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And you may be wondering how it managed to make it all the way north into parts of Nebraska and Iowa? Well, you’ll remember that strong south wind we had yesterday. Omaha experienced wind gusts from the south up to about 35 mph and so Saharan dust that was already in the air down south was pushed up north very easily, and those were just our surface winds!

While the Saharan dust won’t have much of an impact on most of us, it has caused our air quality to drop. On Sunday, Omaha’s air quality was rated as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” This is to give a heads up to those with underlying breathing or heart issues, as they will likely want to limit their time spent outside. (While the image below is labeled as "Today" it is data from Sunday, June 28th, 2020.)

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Air quality from "AirNow.gov" on June 28, 2020.

The good news is our air quality has greatly improved from Sunday, but it’s in the “Moderate” category which won’t cause issues for many of us. It will likely give us a few colorful sunrises and sunsets if we can get the cloud cover out of here!

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More good news is we’re expecting most of the dust to be out of here by Thursday because we’ve got a cold front coming in on Wednesday that will help push it out of our area. For more detailed air quality information, visit AirNow.gov.

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