Puerto Rico Sahara Dust This satellite photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, shows a cloud of dust coming from the Sahara Desert arriving to the Caribbean. The massive cloud of dust is blanketing the Caribbean as it heads to the U.S. with a size and concentration level that meteorologists say hasn't been seen in roughly half a century.
Image by NOAA via AP

A larger-than-usual dust plume brings unhealthy air to the region this week and makes its way to the United States mainland next week.

SAN JUAN — On Monday, Puerto Rico experienced a historic plume of Sahara dust like possibly never before. The dust plume started to drift over Puerto Rico on Saturday. The highest concentrations of dust are expected to make an impact from Monday through Thursday. Experts are calling it the “Godzilla dust cloud,” because of its enormous size.

“I have a colleague from the University of Miami, Joe Prospero, who’s been in this profession for more than 60 years and is already retired,” Dr. Olga Mayol, of the Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies told The Americano. “He expressed never having seen something like this before.”

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The professional said no data was available beyond the six-decade timeframe because the technology for measuring dust clouds was inexistent.

Mayol, who is also a professor of environmental science at the University of Puerto Rico, indicates that both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources (DRN by its Spanish initials) say that fine particulate is most harmful to health.

The air quality on the island has fallen to “very unhealthy” levels, according to data compiled at the Center for Atmospheric Sciences in Cabezas de San Juan, a nature reserve in Fajardo, Puerto Rico where Mayol works. Experts are recommending for people with respiratory conditions, children, and the elderly to stay indoors. Whoever is heading out should wear a mask.

People who are battling COVID-19 symptoms are of special concern because the virus mostly affects the respiratory system.

“Public health is not my area of expertise, but anyone with respiratory problems, or physical conditions that may be exacerbated by the poor air quality, should stay in as much as possible,” explains Mayol.

The scientist says the reason behind the size of the dust cloud is unknown. Studies are underway to determine the factors that may have affected the phenomenon.

Forecasts indicate the dust density will peak from Monday to Tuesday. On Thursday and Friday, the atmosphere will clear up a bit thanks to a tropical wave bringing rain to the island. But the weekend will continue with plume dust until the beginning of next week.

Mayol says the plume is extending to Central and South America, and that forecasts indicate it will make its way into the United States.

People from various regions of Puerto Rico have shared photos on social media showing the impact of the dust.

The main international airport in San Juan reported visibility of only five miles, according to The Associated Press.

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