What is Saharan dust?

What is this Saharan dust and how did it get here?

As motorists across the country set off to work on Monday morning, many were left puzzled after finding their vehicles coated with a thin layer of red dust.

Remarkably this dust had found its way to the UK at the end of a 2,000 mile journey from northwest Africa.

The satellite animation in this video shows the air flowing from North Africa over Europe and the UK, bringing a steady flow of dust from the Sahara for several days.

 

The public took to social media to report their unusually dusty vehicles.

So what is this Saharan dust and how did it get here?

Saharan dust is a mixture of sand and dust from the Sahara, the vast desert area that covers most of North Africa.

Once it is lifted from the ground by strong winds, clouds of dust can reach very high altitudes and be transported worldwide, covering thousands of miles.

Gale force wind conditions in the Sahara of over 40 miles per hour contributed to this most recent example of the phenomenon, although it is by no means its first occurrence.

Paul Hutcheon, Met Office forecaster, said: "We usually see this happen several times a year when big dust storms in the Sahara coincide with southerly winds to bring dust here."

Upon their high-altitude arrival to the UK, the airborne particles combined with our warm air and were deposited during rain showers. When the rainwater evaporated, a thin layer of dust was left on surfaces, like cars.

Saharan dust is also a contributing factor to air quality, in addition to pollution levels and weather conditions.

For more information take a look at the Met Office blog.

Last updated: 20 May 2014