Saturday, June 27, 2020

Still Life with Robin: A Dust-up over a Dust Storm

by Peggy Robin  

Want a bit of good news? The Great Sahara Dust Cloud or Dust Plume (depending on whether you’re reading Capital Weather Gang or watching CNN) has given us a miss. 

It arrived on American soil and is now blanketing the Southeast, and parts of the Caribbean, and even stretching westward 
over Texas and Oklahoma, but our skies have remained unhazed. 

Perhaps we will get something of an 
enhanced sunset tonight, if there's enough of an increase in dust particles in our 
atmosphere to trap the sun's rays and make the sky glow orange as the sun goes down. But we’ve been spared the choking haze that is going on right now to our south. Perhaps the silver lining in that part of the country is that the increased dust in the air might be what it takes to get people in Texas, Florida, and other states with skyrocketing Covid transmission rates to start wearing protective face masks.  

In this good-news-bad-news situation, you can count on me to find something offbeat and unimportant to highlight – and then complain about. I won’t let you down. I have managed to find the trivial but irritating nugget in this dust-up to get me started. It falls into the “what’s in a name?” category of issues. Many in the media -- CBSABCFoxNews (of course!), even DCist – have dubbed it “The Godzilla Dust Cloud” or “Godzilla Storm.” I find that so inappropriate. You don’t tag a lung-damaging, dangerous phenomenon of nature with the name of a pop-culture monster. Especially not one that comes from Japan! Look at the map -- Japan's six thousand miles away from the Sahara! Okay, calling it the Godzilla Storm is nowhere near as racist as calling the coronavirus the “Kung Flu” – but surely, you can see there's a certain shared mentality. And it's not a good one.  

Why has no one else called this out? Too many more important things to worry about, I suppose. Well, that’s what I’m here for. Everyone, stop it at once!   

Of course, there does need to be a better alternative -- some handy, easily memorable term for this phenomenon. I concede that. “Sahara Dust Plume” is maybe a bit unwieldy. Great Sahara Dust Cloud is no better. Even if you reduce it to its initials, GSDC, that's not especially memorable or evocative.  

There would be no problem is this dust cloud could be called a haboob. But it can't: “haboob” is a term with a very specific meaning – and if a weather forecaster tells you that a haboob is coming, and you don’t know what that is, you will look it up and remember what you learn. (If you want to know the difference between a haboob and a Sahara Dust Plume, go here:     

As for what would be a good shorthand term for a Sahara Dust Storm – it is formed out of the SAL (Sahara Air Layer) so the obvious choice would be a "SALstorm." And then I suppose we could use the familiar form, Sally, as a handy, short but memorable term. A Sally over North America is not something that happens often enough to need different identifying names for each one, like hurricanes. Just Sally should do. Or maybe not. There's an argument to be made for giving up the use of nicknames for deadly weather phenomenon. But that's a separate issue.  

All I'm asking now is for people to stop calling it Godzilla. Because this -- ! -- is NOT a dust storm!  

And that’s the good news!  

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.   

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