PANAMA CITY, Fla. – (WMBB) This week’s Tropic Topics we discuss current conditions out in the Gulf and Saharan Dust.

This week the First Alert Storm Team is talking about Saharan dust since there is no activity across the tropics. However, there is one potential tropical depression off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. 

This low pressure would have been named Fred but did not end up developing. The team reviews that Saharan dust is good during this time of year, because it inhibits tropical waves or weak tropical systems from maturing. However, already mature hurricanes that run into dry air, may not dissipate completely, but dust and debris can significantly weaken systems, especially if the dry air is fed into the SW quadrant of the hurricane, where the moist air is pulled into the system. For example, Hurricane Katrina was intercepted by not Saharan dust, but by continental dry air.

Questions: 

How long will it be until we see another bad hurricane? 

The Panhandle/Gulf Coast sees impacts from a hurricane about once every three years. For major hurricanes, the return period is about once every 20 years. 

How does smoke hinder or enhance thunderstorm activity?

Additional smoke/haze in the atmosphere can hinder thunderstorm activity due to less radiation or day-time heating for convection to feed off in the afternoon, while smoke/more debris acts as nucleation particle for more moisture to hold onto in the atmosphere, equaling more cloud cover, and the greater chance for rainfall. Whether thunderstorm activity is enhanced or diminished by smoke is dependent on what else is going on in the atmosphere.