Sahara Dust: Birds, Bees, Hurricanes and Tropical Depression

St. John, Virgin Islands
Being that its hurricane season here in the Virgin Islands, I’ve been monitoring several internet weather sites to keep abreast of any developing adverse atmospheric conditions. In pursuing this, I learned of the role played by Sahara dust in the formation of hurricanes.

The area affected by this hot, dry and dusty air coming off the Sahara Dessert on the continent of Africa even has a name. Its called the Sahara Air Layer or (SAL).

It seems that the SAL impedes the development of tropical storms. This is what happened to Tropical Depression Two, which never (yet) turned into the expected first named storm of the season. However, the absence of Sahara dust in the vicinity of the extensive tropical wave now off the coast of Africa (90L) is what makes this gathering of thunderstorms more likely to experience organization and to perhaps threaten us next week.

The Birds and The Bees
I have also observed how the dryness in the air and lack of rain which has characterized our weather here on St. John for the last several weeks has affected the behavior of some of our more common tropical fauna. My old enemies, the thrushies, seem to be more aggressive in stealing my mangoes

The dry air has also made bees more creative in searching for water as can be witnessed by anyone daring enough to bathe in our outdoor shower. The second the water is turned on, dozens of bees swarm about attracted to the water, even if steaming hot. They’re not aggressive, have never stung anyone (yet), but it is rather unnerving to be standing naked taking a shower closely surrounded by swarms of buzzing bees.

Another plus for the Sahara dust and its resultant dryness is the relative absence of mosquitos. These pesky insects depend on standing water to breed and without it, their numbers decrease dramatically.

Tropical Depression
My friend, John Gibney, who spent most of his life on St. John, once remarked that the Sahara dust affected his mood and when the condition broke followed by a hard rain he would feel noticeably better. Thinking about it, I believe I feel the same way.

This is not too far-fetched, as certain weather conditions in the world are commonly known to effect peoples mood. This has often been said about the Santa Anna winds over California, the Kona winds over Hawaii and the The Tramontana winds over Spain, France and Italy. This tendency for certain winds to influence mood has been attributed to the production of positively charged ions by certain wind conditons.

Referring to the Tramontama, the principal character in Victor Hugo’s poem, Gastibelza, says: “Le vent qui vient à travers la montagne me rendra fou..” (“the wind which comes across the mountains would drive me mad.” And he Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote about the Tramontana bearing the seeds of madness.

All in all, however, I would venture to guess that hurricanes and mosquitos would depress me way more than positive ions.

I hear the thrushies screeching. Better go check my mangoes.

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2 thoughts on “Sahara Dust: Birds, Bees, Hurricanes and Tropical Depression”

  1. Very interesting. Glad to hear that there’s a positive side to the sahara dust. I’ve always just thought of it as an annoyance. I definitely notice it it’s negative effect on my respiratory tract. I always have allergy symptoms, sore throat, etc. when it’s heavy. And it settles out and makes everything filthy! It’s impossible to keep the house clean.

  2. Interesting about the winds and emotions; I definitely notice this with the local Santa Ana winds of southern California. Wikipedia has an interesting article on it under “foehn winds.”

    Are the bees in the V.I. different in any significant way from the fat happy honeybees I might be used to here in sunny San Diego? I have not travelled much (alas!) but on a trip to Pittsburgh, I noticed that the bees were different: sleeker and more slender, with drooping or hanging — um — thingies. Sort of like trailing antenna. Didn’t look exactly like legs. Wish I could be more explicit…

    Enjoyed your web site! Happy mangoes!

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