Can specks of dust stifle hurricanes? - Soundings Online

Can specks of dust stifle hurricanes?

Author:
Publish date:

New research suggests Saharan dust storms are linked to suppressed hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

New research suggests Saharan dust storms are linked to suppressed hurricane activity in the Atlantic. Jason Dunion, a hurricane researcher at the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory’s Hurricane Research Division in Miami, along with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, came to the conclusion after studying 25 years of satellite data.

They found that during times of intense hurricane activity, the large clouds of dust that periodically blow westward from the SaharaDesert are relatively scarce. In years when there were fewer hurricanes, the dust storms were stronger and tended to spread over much of the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.

Dunion says the work is a piece of a larger puzzle in which researchers are trying to understand how the various components of these dust storms — dry air, strong winds and suspended dust — can suppress hurricane formation and intensification. In 2002, Dunion developed a technique for detecting the large dust clouds using infrared imagery from the NOAA GOES satellites.

Last summer, part of the fieldwork used NOAA’s P-3 Orion turboprop plane and G-IV high-altitude jet to study the interactions between tropical cyclones and Saharan dust storms. Eight missions were flown during the peak of the dust storm activity. These storms are part of what’s called the Saharan Air Layer and tend to be most intense in early summer. They are responsible for ejecting vast amounts of dry, dusty air into the Atlantic throughout hurricane season.

The data collected during the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season will be incorporated into NOAA and other operational forecast models to help improve forecasts of hurricane track and intensity. (More hurricane coverage begins on Page 44.) www.namma.msfc.nasa.gov