Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Saharan dust causes hazy skies over Ambergris Caye


The sky over San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, has been hazy and dusty for the past few days because of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) from the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. This phenomenon is also responsible for the current heat wave. The National Meteorological Service has advised the public to stay hydrated and avoid outdoor activities as much as possible, particularly during afternoon hours.
Saharan dust comprises of sand, dirt, and other dust particles lifted into the atmosphere from the vast desert in northern Africa. The African wind currents carry the dust, pushing it westward into the Atlantic and Caribbean regions.
Ambergris Caye’s usual blue skies have been replaced by an opaque atmosphere. It is sweltering, and medical experts warn that the dust carries fungi, bacteria, and other contaminants. Therefore, persons with respiratory or heart diseases, the elderly, or young children should take precautions and wear protective gear while avoiding outdoor activities. Health authorities on Ambergris Caye advise using face masks outdoors to avoid breathing in dust particles. They also shared that there has been an increase in allergies in San Pedro.
Besides causing human disturbances, the dust also plays a vital role in nature. When Saharan dust is blown into the ocean, it acts as a natural fertilizer, allowing phytoplankton to thrive. These microscopic plants use the iron and nutrients from the dust to grow and reproduce, leading to vibrant marine ecosystems. The dust is also known for containing phosphorus, essential for rainforests in the Caribbean and Latin America. Some meteorologists have even identified another advantage of the dust: its ability to suppress the formation and strengthening of tropical storms, offering a silver lining to this natural phenomenon.
The thick, filmy skies will continue for the next few days. The National Meteorological Service has indicated that the SAL will continue to produce hazy and dusty conditions over Belize. However, a break is expected later in the week, allowing clearer skies and lower temperatures.

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