Cover Photo: Mysterious dust from last night’s event. Photo courtesy of Rachael Fick.
UPDATE: This article was updated 2/24/2023 at 2 PM to include information released by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
HAGERSTOWN, MD News (2/24/2023) – Overnight, the West Virginia Panhandle, Western Maryland, and parts of Southern Pennsylvania were covered in a mysterious dust. Reports initially occurred on social media in West Virginia, then Maryland, and finally Pennsylvania. Sightings were reported in Kearneysville WV, Williamsport MD, Hagerstown MD, Sharpsburg MD, and even Chambersburg PA. At this time, there is no definitive answer what the dust is, or where it came from. However, there are a few theories.
“I’ve lived here over a decade & have never seen anything like this,” said local resident Rachael Fick, who submitted photos to us for usage in this article.
The mystery dust set in late Thursday evening, and was a grayish brown color. The dust settled on objects and the ground similar to pollen, but was described as having a consistency similar to that of ash or soot.
So what was it? The first theory which was widely distributed was that this was pollen due to the surprisingly warm weather. However, pollen is typically yellow or orange in color, so that likely eliminates pollen as the reason for the phenomenon.
A second theory circulating social media was that this was remnants from the East Palestine train derailment fire. However, this theory can also be immediately disregarded, as wind was blowing from a southwesterly direction yesterday, and East Palestine, Ohio is to the northwest.
There is a Sahara dust cloud currently about to hit the United States, but the Sahara dust is not scheduled to impact our area until sometime Saturday. This dust also likely has a more brownish color than gray.
A more likely option is that apparently there was recently a dust storm in the plains of the Midwest of the United States. This is plausible, but we would expect this type of dust to have a more brownish color than gray.
Finally, there was a recent fire at the uranium processing facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is Southwest of our area and matches yesterday’s wind patterns. According to authorities, no radioactive material was released during the fire. This ash could have been carried in the upper atmosphere from the fire, and deposited in our area as the cold front moved in.
Google search trends showed this to be a very localized phenomenon, with most searches regarding the dust being from West Virginia.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) issued a statement Friday afternoon that they are working with state and local agencies to investigate the large amounts of dust across multiple counties in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
“We have staff on site who are coordinating with our state and local partners to identify the material and any potential causes,” said WVDEP Division of Air Quality Director Laura Crowder.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Division of Emergency Management Division (WVEMD) and the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office are also investigating the situation.
The media contact for Maryland Department of Environment informed Radio Free Hub City that this was the first he had heard of the incident, but he would contact us if he learns more.
So for now, the nature and origin of last night’s dust remains a mystery. We will provide further updates on this story as they become available.
Article by RFHC Staff.
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