The most far-reaching and potent outbreak of dust from the Sahara Desert in decades has begun to significantly affect the Lower 48 states, with air quality deteriorating markedly on the Gulf Coast on Friday. The dust, which hitched a ride along a ribbon of east-to-west winds about 5,000 miles from the Atlantic coast of Senegal and Mauritania, contains enough small particles at low altitudes to make air quality unhealthy, particularly for those with preexisting medical conditions, such as lung and heart ailments and asthma.

In Texas, which isĀ battling a sustained increase in cases of the novel coronavirus, the simultaneous decline in air quality in highly populated areas such as Houston could add to the symptoms experienced by those who develop covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Air quality levels along the Gulf Coast on Friday. (

The plume, which first departed Africa on June 14, is part of a phenomenon known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) that develops every year around this time off the coast of Africa, but the current one is unusually intense and far-reaching and is setting records.