NRL tracks dust storms across the Atlantic

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The US Naval Research Laboratory is teaming up with NASA, NOAA and Caribbean organizations to create regional weather forecast alerts for dust storms.

Every year, 14 million metric tons of dust travels across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert, ending up in the Greater Caribbean, South America, the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern USA.

Arunas Kuciauskas, a US Naval Research Laboratory meteorologist, tracks the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) and works with researchers at NASA, NOAA and Caribbean organizations to model Saharan dust storms and provide prediction tools for weather forecasters and healthcare professionals.

Kuciauskas uses NOAA’s Unique Combined Atmospheric Processing System (NUCAPS) software tool that processes radiance data from satellites collected by NOAA’s Joint Polar-orbiting Satellite System (JPSS) into thermodynamic parameters that describe SAL.

Kuciauskas has teamed up with NOAA science and operations officer Ernesto Rodriguez to track and measure the size and power of regional dust storms.

Rodriguez works at the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and research with Kuciauskas will lead to regional weather forecast alerts indicating severity days before the dust arrives.

They will establish a baseline expectation using 17 years of climatology over the Caribbean and statistical averaging.

The San Juan National Weather Service aims to develop a traffic light prediction approach where green indicates low impact, yellow is average and red means a dust storm is dangerous.

The traffic lights will alert the public of upcoming hazards, so residents can decide to stay inside, and cover machinery, and local flights can adjust courses or schedules.

Small aircraft are most affected by SAL events. Rodriguez commented, “They usually fly at low altitudes, around 3-5km, where the Saharan dust is transported. An accurate forecast of a SAL event will provide enough lead time to the aviation and maritime community to plan the operations, taking into account the visibility reduction and the poor air quality.”

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