2020’s latest: A massive cloud of Saharan dust, nicknamed “Godzilla” for its enormous size, is set to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on Thursday, according to forecasters. And while the phenomenon is not unusual, many health specialists have expressed concern over how this deteriorating air quality could affect those already struggling with the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19.
Clouds of dust traveling from the Sahara across the North Atlantic are common occurrences from late spring to early fall, peaking in the summer, from late June to mid-August. As USA Today explains, the mass of dry dust, known as the Saharan Air Layer, forms over the Sahara Desert before being carried by trade winds across the ocean every three to five days, occupying up to a two-mile-thick layer in the atmosphere. This latest dust mass, however, is “the most significant event in the past 50 years,” according to Pablo Méndez Lázaro, an environmental-health specialist with the University of Puerto Rico.
The latest Godzilla cloud has already coated the Caribbean, with air quality reaching “hazardous” levels in the region. The extreme hazy conditions are expected to last in the area until Tuesday, and experts have advised people to stay indoors and use air filters if they can.
“Air quality could also drop to moderate to unhealthy this weekend over South and East Texas due to the dust,” said AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski. “So people with respiratory issues should not spend any long periods of time outdoors. Some people with severe respiratory conditions may just want to stay indoors.”
The Godzilla cloud comes just as Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state is pausing its reopening efforts due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases, with over 5,000 new cases on each of the last two days.
Over the next few days, some of the dust from the massive cloud is expected to travel as far north as Ohio and as far east as the mid-Atlantic.