North Carolina is under a “Code Orange” air quality warning through midnight Sunday due to a huge dust cloud that traveled over 5,000 miles from North Africa before blanketing the southeastern U.S.
It’s the Saharan Air Layer, which occurs every year but is so unusually large this year that it was nicknamed the "Godzilla dust cloud."
The National Weather Service (NWS) said it's the largest Saharan dust plume in at least 50 years. It's about 3,500 miles long and extends 5,000 to 20,000 feet into the atmosphere.
The monster dust plume resulted in hazy skies and intense sunsets and is expected to leave North Carolina early this coming week. It left parked vehicles lightly coated with dust in some Southern states.
The Saharan dust blew across the Atlantic Ocean and blanketed the eastern Caribbean on Monday. It darkened the skies over Puerto Rico and caused some of the highest atmospheric aerosol concentrations the island ever saw.
From the Gulf of Mexico, it turned northeast toward the Carolinas and was expected to go as far north as Kentucky and Ohio.
Code Orange means the air is “unhealthy for sensitive groups” under N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources standards.
The NWS said that due to unhealthy levels of “fine particulates,” those with respiratory or heart issues, older adults and children should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.