‘Wall of dust’ rolling past Las Vegas was so big it showed up on satellite images

A massive cloud? Smoke from a wildfire?

The huge plume that blew across the Las Vegas area on Thursday wasn’t either of those — it was actually dust rolling off a dry lake bed, according to the National Weather Service.

The Las Vegas Review Journal described the natural phenomenon as “a wall of dust,” which “was rolling over Henderson on Thursday evening.” Meteorologists said on Twitter that the dust was coming from the bed of Jean Dry Lake.

“The dirt is usually pretty hard this time of year, but it’s possible the dust was kicked up during the RiSE Festival,” National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Gorelow said, according to the Review Journal. “With all those people, they could have loosened up the top layer of dirt.”

The festival, held in early October in Nevada, is “a live music event culminating in the largest lantern release in the world … All lanterns are 100% biodegradable and we recover all lanterns from the surrounding desert after the event,” according to the event’s website.

Meteorologists said Friday morning that with winds shifting north there shouldn’t be more dust in the region.

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Forecaster Chris Outler of the National Weather Service said wind gusts as high as 38 miles per hour were responsible for driving the dust into the air on Thursday, SFGate reported.

“It’s not uncommon to get these plumes during our more organized wind storms,” Outler said Friday, according to SFGate. “Yesterday’s winds weren’t that wild to get this much dust.”

The National Weather Service’s outpost in Las Vegas shared a photo of Thursday’s dust plume on Twitter.

Meteorologists also shared satellite images that capture the dust plume from outer space.

One was “a ‘natural color’ image — something close to what your eyes would see if you were the satellite,” according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service also shared a wider view of the plume in geocolor.

“We can see the widespread haze and dust across the area - something the satellites see better near both sunrise and sunset,” meteorologists wrote.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.