LITTLE ROCK, Ark – During this stretch of hot, humid, and dry weather we haven’t seen the best conditions for beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Normally to get the best colors there needs to be some clouds for the reds, oranges, and pinks to reflect off. With our huge ridge of high pressure parked over Arkansas, clouds are going to be hard to come by.

The good news is we don’t need clouds, for the most colorful sunrises/sunsets, all we need is something for the sun’s rays to reflect off of. Last year that thing was smoke from western wildfires and this week it’s going to be dust from Africa!

Satellite data shows several rounds of dust from the Sahara Desert will blow thousands of miles across the Atlantic and into Arkansas. Model data shows the dust will be the thickest now through Friday.

So what causes our colorful sunsets?

Colorful sunsets are 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 causing the sky to appear blue.

As the sun sets lower in the sky the light must travel through more of the atmosphere, which filters out the shorter wavelengths, such as blue, green, and purple. As it filters out the shorter wavelengths this allows the longer wavelength colors (red, orange, and yellow) to reach our eyes.

So how exactly does the Saharan dust enhance the colors?

When dust is 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 helps in creating especially vibrant sunsets.

Over the next few days, you will notice the skies will appear milky, but the dust won’t be thick enough to drastically affect air quality. The Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment has either good or moderate air quality over the next few days. Click here for their latest air quality forecast.

Enjoy the colors! – Meteorologist Alex Libby

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