Sahara Dust Settles Over St. John

Sahara Dust Settles Over St. John

Good Morning!  If you’re on island right now, you might notice a crazy hazy atmosphere dimming the horizon line surrounding St. John.  That haze is, in fact, dust particles from the Sahara Desert that have traveled thousands of miles on the trade winds to settle over the Virgin Islands for a bit.  It’s not an uncommon, or a necessarily bad, occurrence.  But, it might cast a bit of a shadow on the traditional Caribbean sunset views and clog up the air ways just a bit!

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Each year, most commonly during the spring and summer months, we start to see a sporadic haze that conflicts with the blue skies and the movement of the air.  This haze in the air is known as the Sahara Dust Layer (SAL) that is made up of tiny little particles of dust that are carried over on the trade winds from…you guessed it…The Sahara Desert in AFRICA.  Crazy right?

We have seen particularly dense clouds of the stuff over the past few years and, aside from messing with your allergies and raising the temperature a bit while we bake in the natural oven the heavy layer of air creates, the dust really has a lot of great qualities!  For starters, I really enjoy the unique sunsets that the refracting particles create.  You can really see the sun itself slowly lowering behind the horizon line.  It reminds me of something not of this world…Planet of the Apes comes to mind 🙂

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The dust cloud also sprinkles nutrients to our marine friends on its trip across the Atlantic Basin and brings those nutrients to our underwater world here in the Virgin Islands upon its arrival!  The dust carries essential minerals, such as iron, and acts as natural air born fertilizer for life under the sea.

Additionally, and especially during this time of year as we settle into peak hurricane season, the Saharan Dust is a good omen!  You see, the dust creates a dry and stable “cloud” that makes unfavorable conditions for hurricanes.  Tropical storms need moisture to form, right?  In the photo below, you’ll notice the reddish orange blurb (yes, that’s a technical term:)).  That’s the dust.  The blue and green surrounding it are thunderstorms that can form around the edge of the cloud.  But, when the cloud hovers over us, we are more than likely safe from a threat of a major natural event.

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So, a few pointers for dealing with the dust if you are visiting with us during one of these spells….

  • DO sunscreen up!  In the case of a dense dust cloud, it may seem like the sun is hiding its face and not posing a danger to your skin, but that is not the case.  The dust particles actually EXCEL the UV rays of the sun.  So, bust out your REEF SAFE sunscreen before you hit the beach!
  • Wear your mask!  I know that we are all tired of the mask wearing.  But, in this case it is actually serving a dual purpose.  The African dust has been known to cause complications with asthma, allergies and respiratory issues due to the tiny microbes in the dust that can carry bacteria, fungi or viruses. Nasty stuff right?  Well, with your mask on, not only will you be in compliance with the USVI mandate to wear them in public places, but you’ll also be adding an additional layer of protection between you and the dust.
  • On the same note, bring your meds.  If you are traveling to St. John during the late Spring-early Autumn months, be sure to bring your allergy, asthma, respiratory or cardiovascular medications in case of the arrival of a particularly dense cloud while you are visiting.
  • Drink lots of water!  The Saharan Dust can create a particularly hot and dry environment that can lead to dehydration and fatigue.  So make sure to stay hydrated in between cocktails.
  • Keep your doors and windows closed.  Generally speaking, I would advise you to throw open the windows and keep the A/C off while visiting in order to help your accommodations provider conserve energy costs.  However, in the event of a particularly dusty atmospheric condition, I would advise you to keep your place closed up to keep the dust out and keep yourself and your family healthy.
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Saharan Dust satellite image from July 12

So, keep in mind when traveling during this time of year that you may see some haze on the horizon line, brought to us courtesy of the Sahara Desert!  The haze may settle in for a week or so, or maybe for just a few days.  This current cloud that we are seeing is VERY dense, but it’s not the worst we have seen in recent years.  Here’s a peak at the current conditions from Calichi in Coral Bay:

So, hopefully within a few days, we will get back to those beautiful blue skies and vividly colorful sunsets.  But, in the meantime, give thanks for this shelter from the storms and practice your due diligence in keeping yourself healthy…And enjoying St. John!

4 thoughts on “Sahara Dust Settles Over St. John”

  1. I was trying t explain this to a visitor from Lake Tahoe.
    Does anyone believe the dust ends on the bottom of your feet if barefoot on a deck?

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