What is Saharan Dust? When is it coming to Birmingham? Answers from CBS 42’s Ashley Gann

CBS 42 Meteorologist Ashley Gann describing incoming Saharan Dust Plume. Photo courtesy of Ashley Gann

Let us just admit it.  For the past week, we’ve been seeing maps of  the “Saharan Dust Plume” inching ever so slowly toward the continental U.S., in particular the Southeast and Alabama. The maps are quite frightening. 

To ease our fears, I asked my favorite meteorologist in town, CBS 42’s Ashley Gann, to help us understand what’s coming.  Below is her response from my email request this weekend asking for details about the incoming Saharan Dust Plume. 

Nothing New

From CBS 42’s Ashley Gann

The  Saharan Air Layer is nothing new. It’s just that now, we have technology that can show the future path of that Saharan Air Layer, giving us another forecasting tool to use in our weather tool box.  

So what is the Saharan Air Layer and what does it mean for Alabama?

The Saharan Air Layer is essentially like a conveyer belt in the upper levels of the atmosphere that is  moving East to west. It is a mass of very dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert and moves from land to ocean every 3-5 days. This is a common and frequent occurs  between mid June to mid August. On occasion, that layer can extend to the lower 48 and it can even occupy up to 2-2.5 miles of thickness of the atmosphere. 

What does that mean for Alabama?

CBS 42 Meteorologist Ashley Gann showing the forecast for the next seven days during the arrival of the Saharan Dust Plume. Photo courtesy of Ashley Gann

2 main consequences:

1. The dry, desert air stymies much tropical development. The tropics will remain pretty quiet for the next couple of weeks as a result. 

2. Because these dust particles are one mile up in the atmosphere they help produce amazing sunrises and sunsets because the sun’s light beams refract around these particles and display all sorts of colors. Because our forecast next week includes a good bit of rain and clouds, we may not benefit as much though. 

A small side effect is for those who have extreme respiratory sensitivities. Because these particles are well above us, they rarely mix down into the air we breathe, but again it can effect some sensitive groups, but not really the general public.

Keep Watching the Weather – Find a Rooftop

Many thanks from Bham Now to Ashley and her staff at CBS 42. Frankly, I hope our weather clears up later this week and on the weekend so we can all experience some spectacular sunrises and sunsets.   

And because Bham Now has a guide for EVERYTHING  Birmingham – here is an article about the best rooftop bars in the Magic City… just in case the weather clears up.

Your guide to rooftop bars in Birmingham, including The Southern


  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.