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Saudi Sand Plumes: Earth Image of the Week January 30, 2009
NASA Image of the Red Sea on January 15, 2009.
Although these plumes originated in Saudi Arabia, dust can also blow over the Red Sea from Sudan.
Strong offshore winds in western Saudi Arabia were kicking up massive clouds of desert sand that blew far out over the Red Sea in mid-January.

When NASA’s Terra satellite passed over the region at midday on January 15, it captured the image to the right, showing several separate plumes of Saudi sand being carried west and southwestward.

The most dramatic was approximately 50 miles wide at its source just to the north of Jiddah (Jeddah). The plume made a graceful arc over almost the entire width of the Red Sea, barely missing the coast of Sudan.

Fine sediment covers a long stretch of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, and it is easily carried aloft by strong desert winds.

Jiddah was in its second day of experiencing gusty northeastern winds of between 20 and 25 mph, which whipped up the large sand plumes.

Visibility at the city’s international airport had dropped to only 2 miles (3 km) due to blowing sand just a few hours before the satellite image was taken.

While windy conditions prevailed along most of the Saudi coast, the airport at nearby Mecca was receiving light winds of only 5 mph or less due to its sheltered location in a basin surrounded by higher terrain.

Additional details and image: NASA