The peak of hurricane season is approaching later this month, but storm activity in the middle of the Atlantic is unlikely to develop during the first half of August because of a massive cloud of dust from the Sahara Desert moving across the ocean.
Satellite images from earlier this week (shown above) revealed a burst of dust blowing westward off of Africa. NASA Global Hawk aircraft were scheduled to explore the dust further on Tuesday.
Saharan dust can significantly discourage tropical cyclone formation in the Atlantic, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists. It typically brings dry air that is not conducive to storm development, and some studies have suggested the dust itself has an effect on cloud formation.
Blowing across the ocean for as long as a week, the Saharan sand has been measured as far away as southern Florida, according to NOAA.
The burst of dust comes as the hurricane season typically starts heating up. Storms are most frequent from mid-August to mid-September in the Atlantic, the first cyclone to reach hurricane strength typically not doing so until about Aug. 10.
No storms have reached hurricane status in the Atlantic so far this year, but the four tropical storms that have formed to date is more than is normal by this time of year. The fourth named system typically doesn't arrive until around Aug. 23, according to the National Hurricane Center, but Tropical Storm Dorian beat that date by nearly a month.