Breakdown: Why smoke and dust create beautiful sunsets

Breakdown: Why dust and smoke create beautiful sunsets

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Have you looked to the sky during dusk and saw an amazing sight in the sky as of late? Well did you know that the beautiful sunsets have been caused by dust and smoke from hundreds of thousand miles away from the Mid-South?

In this episode of the Breakdown, we are going to explain how upper level winds are pushing Saharan Dust and smoke from Arizona wild fires into the region giving us the gorgeous sunsets the past few days.

There have been several beautiful sunsets over the past several days due to upper level winds pushing Saharan Dust and smoke from Arizona fires into the Mid-South.

When winds are exceptionally strong on the African continent and across the Atlantic Ocean, Saharan Dust makes its way into the southeastern United States. This dust blows across the Atlantic in what is called the Saharan Air layer, which carries the blurry beige colored dust into and across the United States. The altitude of this dust layer ranges from 5,000-20,000 feet which can been seen from satellite images.

The Saharan Dust is not the only reason sunsets in the Mid-South are displaying bright and vivid colors, smoke from a massive ongoing fire in Arizona is drifting east across the Southern U.S. and infiltrating the air the Mid-South.

The Woodbury fire which started in Tonto National Forest on June 8th and continues to burn is the culprit for the smoke in our atmosphere. Fire officials estimate the fire will not be contained until mid-July, due to the hot and dry conditions which continue to fuel the flames and causing the smoke from the fires to be transported eastward by the wind.

So how exactly does the Saharan dust and the Arizona smoke team up to create a beautiful sunset in the Mid-South?

This is caused by the light from the sun traveling to the Earth which contains many different colors, each having different wavelengths. The color with the shortest wavelength is blue, and because it is the shortest wavelength it is absorbed by air molecules and scattered in every direction when the sun is directly overhead or at a slight angle causing us to see a blue sky.

As the sun sets lower in the sky the light must travel through more of the atmosphere, which in turn filters out the shorter wavelength light, such as blue, green, and purple. As it filters out the shorter wave lengths this allows the longer wavelength colors to reach the human eye, which are orange, pink, and red colors.

When smoke and dust are present in the upper atmosphere, the colors of the sunset are enhanced to look even deeper and darker in color. Tiny dust particles help to create more scattering in the upper atmosphere, which aids in creating especially vibrant sunsets.

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