British residents woke up on Monday morning to a sky that looked a lot like a scene from the movie Blade Runner– red and hazy. Fortunately, this is not science fiction or even garbage. Rather, it was a combination of Ophelia’s rare, powerful ancient winds and African dust.
The massive, extra-tropical storm that brought high winds and damaging seas to Ireland on Monday also produced a huge wave of south-south winds that brought Saharan dust from the West Coast of Africa. all the way north across the Atlantic and Western Europe into the United Kingdom.
The movement of extra dust into the atmosphere scatters the blue light from the Sun, giving the sky a more red color, as if it were a sunset or sunrise. Strong, southerly winds should ease later on Monday or Wednesday as the remnants of Ophelia move rapidly northeast, away from the United Kingdom.
Saharan dust is much more common in the Atlantic tropics in summer than in northern latitudes. Drawn to the Americas by tropical cyclones, fine particles from Africa often reach areas as far away as Texas and the Amazon River. These dust particles are loaded with phosphorus and provide essential nutrients for crops and other plants. Outbreaks of Saharan dust can also disrupt hurricanes and typhoons during the Atlantic hurricane season, as the influx of dry air dampens the heat of a tropical system.
When your cars blend perfectly with the sky. 🍊 pic.twitter.com/1EKmgDyuGE
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NASA recently analysis found that winds and weather pick up an average of 182 million tons of dust each year from the Sahara desert and transport it west of the Sahara at 15°W longitude. This volume is equivalent to 689,290 semi trucks full of dust.
List image by DANIEL DAN SORABJI/AFP/Getty Images