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A vast cloud of Sahara dust blanketing Havana, Cuba, as people fish on Wednesday. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

A giant, dense plume of Saharan dust is shrouding much of the Caribbean as it heads westward toward Central America and the southern U.S. this week.

Why it matters: The dust cloud blanketing Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and eastern Cuba on Tuesday prompted authorities to issue health warnings across the region as air quality plummeted to unhealthy levels, per Reuters.

  • Pablo Méndez Lázaro, from the University of Puerto Rico's School of Public Health, told AP, "This is the most significant event in the past 50 years. Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands."
  • Aallergist and American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology president J. Allen Meadows said in a statement on Tuesday that dust storms and air pollution "can make asthma symptoms worse and make breathing more difficult."

The big picture: Per the NOAA, the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) is a mass of "very dry, dusty air" that forms over the Sahara Desert in northern Africa.

  • SAL outbreaks usually occupy a two- to 2.5-mile-thick layer of the atmosphere with the base starting about one mile above the surface. It reduced visibility in some areas to five miles when it reached the eastern Caribbean over the weekend, per a NOAA statement.
  • "The main impacts of the Saharan dust are a whitening of the sky during daylight hours, redder sunsets, and decreased air quality," NOAA said in a statement on Tuesday.

What to expect The Saharan dust layer is due to hit the Florida Peninsula and Gulf Coast "in the coming days," according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

  • In a statement posted to Twitter, Sonoma Tech meteorologist Jeff Beamish pointed to modeling showing SAL impacts for Texas and Louisiana by Thursday, "potentially spreading" into the central and eastern US by Saturday.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump admin will grant $11.6 billion to Puerto Rico's recovery, three years after Hurricane Maria

Tropical Storm Laura passes through Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico on Aug. 22. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Three years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the White House on Friday authorized $11.6 billion in federal aid and FEMA grants to rebuild infrastructure on the island.

Why it matters: Throughout his presidency, Trump has resisted giving Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria. The White House touted the grants announced Friday as some of the largest in FEMA's history.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Inhofe loudly sets Trump straight on defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks with reporters in the Capitol last month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senator Jim Inhofe told President Trump today he'll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: "This is the only chance to get our bill passed," a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump's threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.

Conspiracy theories blow back on Trump's White House

Sidney Powell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

President Trump has rarely met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like, but he and other Republicans now worry the wild tales told by lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood may cost them in Georgia's Senate special elections.

Why it matters: The two are telling Georgians not to vote for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because of a bizarre, baseless and potentially self-defeating theory: It's not worth voting because the Chinese Communist Party has rigged the voting machines.

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