A pale dust that filled the air in some parts of the Eastern Panhandle and settled onto cars and other surfaces on Thursday, February 23, was primarily pollen mixed with “trace mineral matter,” said the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Monday.
The regional emergency response social media page Eastern Panhandle Working Fires recorded hundreds of reports from around the region of the dust blowing in thick clouds, covering vehicles and yard items, causing respiratory issues and more.
Residents around the region, including those in Morgan County and the Hancock area, confirmed they saw a film of the dust on newly-cleaned cars and felt the dust in their airways when outdoors last Thursday. The temperatures on February 23 were unseasonably warm, reaching into the mid-70s.
Some residents supposed the dust was pollen released primarily from evergreen trees in response to the sudden warmth. Others looked to area industrial plants or causes further afield.
Environmental experts in Maryland and Virginia reportedly pointed to windblown dust from Texas and New Mexico as the source of the material, transported by front winds moving into this area.
Maryland’s Department of the Environment showed good air quality for fine particulates during the event.
The West Virginia DEP later said they collected samples of the material and sent them to the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey in Morgantown to determine the cause of the dust.
“The WVDEP has received final results from the dust samples collected in the Eastern Panhandle Friday, which indicate the material is predominantly pollen, with trace amounts of mineral matter,” the agency said on Monday, February 27.