MEMPHIS, Tenn.– The Shelby County Health Department issued a special air quality statement Tuesday as Sahara Desert dust moves through the Mid-South.
In a Twitter post, the health department said the dust has brought high concentrations of fine particulates into the Mid-South.
The department is asking sensitive groups including young children, the elderly, and those with lung or cardiac conditions to be aware of any potential negative health effects including difficulty breathing.
The Sahara Desert is located more than 6,000 miles from Memphis.
Saharan dust moving into the southern U.S. is not unusual. Every year between May and early July, the dust travels thousands of miles above the surface of the Atlantic Ocean from Africa into the United States.
Michael Goldstein, meteorologist for the Shelby County Health Department, is monitoring the dust cloud around the clock.
At this point, he said, there is no alert, but the Air Quality Index is at a Code Orange. In the rare times conditions reach this level in the Memphis area, Goldstein said it is usually due to Saharan dust storms or wildfires.
“Storms in the Sahara Desert in Africa create massive sandstorms and dust storms. The particulate pollution is carried high into the atmosphere where strong upper-level global winds carry it across the Atlantic Ocean,” Goldstein said. “If there is a high pressure along the Gulf Coast when the particles arrive, they will be carried north over the Mississippi Valley where the high pressure will pull the particles close to the surface of the Earth. This is the current situation.”
He said the public should limit outdoor activity, especially those in sensitive groups like the elderly, the very young, and people who are exerting themselves outdoors for long periods of time.
“Complicating the situation today are extreme temperatures and heat indices, which create a significant public health concern,” Goldstein said.