Over the next seven to ten days, a prolonged surge of Saharan Dust is forecast to move across the Windward Islands, reducing air quality and visibility. Across Trinidad and Tobago, the surge will arrive on Tuesday night and linger into the mid-week of next week.
Saharan dust concentrations are forecast to remain at moderate to high levels across Trinidad and Tobago at least through the next 10 days.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) air quality monitoring stations are recording AQI values at levels that are good to moderate in Trinidad and Tobago as of Monday morning These measurements are based on PM2.5 (particulates the size of 2.5 micrometers and smaller, usually associated with increases in Saharan Dust, vehicle exhaust, and smoke) and PM10 particulates.
The Saharan Dust Forecast
Over the next 24 hours, Saharan Dust concentrations are forecast to gradually decrease. with minimum concentrations expected Monday night through Tuesday. Air quality levels will fluctuate between good to moderate. With the next surge of dust arriving on Tuesday night, air quality may dip further to levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups.
On days with peak concentrations, visibility may be reduced between 7-10 kilometers particularly on Wednesday into Thursday.
What does this mean for you?
For the general population through the next week or so, with moderate to high Saharan dust concentrations forecast, little to no impacts are forecast beyond hazy skies. For sensitive groups, such as children, the elderly, and persons who suffer from respiratory ailments and allergies, you may need to avoid prolonged exertion outdoors.
Beginning Tuesday night, with high concentrations of Saharan Dust forecast, members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected though visibility will be reduced. There is an increasing likelihood of respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals, aggravation of heart or lung disease, and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease & the elderly.
We’re in a period where a ridge of high pressure stays over the central Sahara Desert. The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) also remains over the Gulf of Guinea. The Harmattan wind accelerates when it blows across the mountain massifs of Northwest Africa. If its speed is high enough and it blows over dust source regions, it lifts the dust and disperses it.
Dust that makes it into the upper levels of the atmosphere can then get transported across the Atlantic Ocean. The plumes of dust eventually affect the Eastern Caribbean.
However, as we progress through the second half of May, the ITCZ and tropical waves may shield Trinidad and Tobago from the Saharan Dust events. While tropical waves play a notable role in moving dust across the Atlantic and the Eastern Caribbean, these periodic tropical waves also improve air quality.
The concentration of the dust that follows the wave depends on the strength of the wave as it moves off the West African Coast. This is because of stronger thunderstorms across Central Africa. As strong winds move downward and outward from these thunderstorms, the wind kicks up dust as it moves across parts of the Saharan Desert and transports it into the upper atmosphere. This “plume” of dust follows the axis of the wave as it progresses westward into the Atlantic.
Larger, more concentrated plumes of Saharan dust begin to occur in April and continue through November.