Hurricane track: African dust storms ‘size of continental US’ suppress Atlantic hurricanes

The NOAA’s National Hurricane Centre (NHC) has closely monitored developing systems in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans this year. Hurricane season started on June 1 in both regions, and will continue until November this year. Despite starting at the same time, however, they are wildly different in terms of activity. In the Pacific, the number of storms has totalled at eight, but just two have developed in the Atlantic.

A plume of dust from Africa has settled in the upper atmosphere around the US east coast throughout the last month, preventing storms - which rely on humidity - from forming in the Atlantic ocean.

Jason Dunion, a researcher for the NOAA and Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), explained dust storms from the African west coast often drift over to the US.

These dust clouds prevent the humid conditions which spark storms from developing, and can even “rip” systems apart.

Talking to NASA, Mr Dunion said: “The Saharan Air Layer is essentially a huge dust storm that can be the size of the continental United States.”

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“Every three to five days during the summertime, these storms roll off of the African coast.

“We think a dust storm has three main components that can suppress a hurricane. One, it’s got super-dry air.

“Hurricanes don’t like dry air in the middle parts of the atmosphere, and that’s exactly what the Saharan Air Layer has.

“A Saharan dust storm also has a very strong surge of air embedded within it, called the mid-level easterly jet, that can rip a storm apart that’s trying to develop.”

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“We call that vertical wind shear. And then the third piece is all this dust.”

The dust will dissipate during the second half of August, with a “season within a season” of storms to follow.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) has predicted another 10 to 17 ‘named storms’ could form within the next six weeks.

These storms pack winds of 39mph and stronger and can intensify towards 157mph in severe cases.

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Dan Kottlowski, the lead hurricane expert with weather forecasters AccuWeather, said the Atlantic hurricane season will be “back-loaded” this year.

He said: “A big change in the pattern over the Atlantic, going from a very lacklustre quiet weather pattern to a much more active one.

“We are thinking this season will be back-loaded.”

If a backlog of storms were to pummel the US over the next month, some of the country’s most valuable commodities would be at risk.

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity and 51 percent of its gas processing faces the Gulf of Mexico, where the Atlantic hurricane season is most active.

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