Dust Can Stop A Hurricane

Really. Experts believe that Saharan dust storms stop hurricane development.

Meteorologists predicted that warmer oceans temperatures would spawn a "banner crop" of hurricanes this year. But it didn't happen. Only 5 developed compared to 15 last year.

A new study suggests that one reason for fewer hurricanes was more frequent outbursts of hot, dry, dust-laden air blowing off the West African desert. One of these sandstorms, blowing into the part of the Atlantic where hurricanes are born, is shown in the satellite image below.

Scientists have long suspected that these massive storms, with millions of tons of dust covering an area the size of the lower 48 states, can hamper hurricane formation in the Atlantic in several ways.

For one thing, the dust absorbs some of the solar energy the storm needs to strengthen. But more important, the Saharan air is 50 percent drier than ocean air. When the two air masses mix they create a strong wind shear which effectively lops the top off "seedling" storms, stopping them before they get started.

Here dust is a case where dust is definitely desirable: it could stop a storm like Katrina or hurricane Andrew which hit Florida in 1992 and did $34 billion in damages.



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