NWS issues Air Quality Alert as Saharan dust continues to push through Carolinas

NWS issues Air Quality Alert as Saharan dust continues to push through Carolinas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Saharan dust continues to dominate the Charlotte skyline with more streaming in.

The National Weather Service has issued an Air Quality Alert for several local counties until midnight Sunday.

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Channel 9 Meteorologist John Ahrens said the biggest impact will be Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. The NWS said Mecklenburg, Avery, Caldwell, Burke, Alexander, Catawba, Iredell, Rowan, Cleveland, Lincoln, Gaston, Cabarrus, and Union counties are in a Code Orange.

Code Orange means the air is unhealthy for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, bronchitis, COVID-19 or breathing issues.

Ahrens said the tiny particles from the dust could lead to irritation in people’s nose, eyes and mouth. It can also cause shortness of breath and coughing.

According to Ahrens, N-95 masks are designed to keep particles out, but cloth mask covers are designed to prevent droplets from spreading, to limit the coronavirus. Droplets are pretty big compared to the Saharan dust particles, so the dust could still get through cloth masks.

Ahrens also said the dust can impact local weather. He said it could possibly push out thunderstorms that try to develop.

How the Saharan Dust cloud will impact the Carolinas

The sand blow off the Saharan Desert starting in late spring and continues through the fall. About once a week during that time, plumes move west and out into the Atlantic. If they are big enough, they can move thousands of miles across the Atlantic, such as the current event.

According to NASA, the plume will be primarily at higher altitudes allowing for some colorful sunrises and sunsets. Charlotte saw a beautiful sunset Friday evening, as seen in the photo below.