Alabama, did you see the spectacular sunset on May 23rd? Here is what caused it.

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Birmingham skyline on May 23, 2022. The bright colors occurred because of the Saharan Africa Layer plume. (Jon Paolone)

On Monday evening, Alabamians throughout the state got to see a spectacular sunset, thanks to a plume of dust, known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), which traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Gulf Coast this weekend.

Depending on the weather, according to CBS 42, models showed the dust moving into the Gulf of Mexico late Saturday. They anticipate the dust to stick around till about Wednesday. It will be most visible for residents along the northern and northwestern Gulf Coast.

In Birmingham, the light show began Monday night at sunset around 7:00p.m. and lasted about an hour. Here is a photo of the Magic City skyline by The Bama Buzz reader Jon Paolone:

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Birmingham skyline on May 23, 2022. The bright colors occurred because of the Saharan Africa Layer plume. (Jon Paolone)

What is SAL?

In a 2020 Q&A story about the Saharan Africa Layer, Dr. Jason Dunion, a University of Miami hurricane researcher working with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory described what causes this phenomenon. 

“SAL outbreaks can form when ripples in the lower-to-middle atmosphere, called tropical waves, track along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and loft vast amounts of dust into the atmosphere. As the SAL crosses the Atlantic, it usually occupies a 2 to 2.5-mile-thick layer of the atmosphere with its base starting about 1 mile above the surface. The warmth, dryness and strong winds associated with the SAL have been shown to suppress tropical cyclone formation and intensification.”

This year’s appearance is a few weeks early. Again from Dunion’s NOAA Q & A.

“SAL activity typically ramps up in mid-June and peaks from late June to mid-August, with new outbreaks occurring every three to five days. During this peak period, it is common for individual SAL outbreaks to reach farther to the west—as far west as Florida, Central America and even Texas—and cover extensive areas of the Atlantic (sometimes as large as the lower 48 United States).”

Share Your Photos Please

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Birmingham skyline on May 23, 2022. The bright colors occurred because of the Saharan Africa Layer plume.(Bham Now)

Did you see the May 23 sunset and snap a few photos? We’d love to share them with The Bama Buzz readers. Post a photo in the comment section, or send us a pic at hello@thebamabuzz.com  . Make sure to give us permission to republish, your name and where the photo was taken.

Pat Byington
Pat Byington
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