Dust and sand storms are not unusual in North Africa and western Asia; in fact, they are a regular part of the region’s rhythm and observed often by satellites. But familiarity does not make them any less extraordinary.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image at 11:25 a.m. local time (0825 Universal Time) on July 7, 2014. A thick plume of dust was blowing out from the dry interior of Sudan and across hundreds of kilometers of the Red Sea, with smaller plumes also visible over Saudi Arabia and Eritrea. Prevailing northwest winds over the water blew the plumes to the southeast.
Though they are not necessarily as concentrated or intense as in other parts of the Middle East, airborne dust events occur with greater frequency in Sudan than just about anywhere else in the region. Dry lake beds and ephemeral rivers provide ample dry sand and clay that are picked up by winds blowing from interior Africa out to sea. In July 2013, MODIS instruments detected dust blowing out of Sudan nearly every day, and a similar pattern appeared to be recurring in early July 2014.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Mike Carlowicz.