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Pics/vids: Mystery dust falls from sky in 3 states; samples tested

A LC-130 Skibird from the 109th Airlift Wing sits on the ramp at Kangerlussuaq Airport, Greenland with the Northern Lights dazzling in the sky above.(Photo Courtesy of Lt. Col. Kevin Jones)
March 05, 2023

A mysterious dust fell from the sky in multiple states late in February, drawing an uncertain response from officials and baffling local residents, who shared photos of cars covered in a fine powder.

The dust fell over parts of West Virginia, northern Virginia and Maryland the night of Thursday, Feb. 23, the Associated Press reported. In a statement the next day, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged “large amounts of dust across multiple counties,” but said “no obvious sources have been identified at this time.”

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Photos and videos posted to social media, which could not be independently verified, appeared to show vehicles covered in a fine layer of powder.

A video shared on social media showed a truck apparently covered in the substance, followed by several other pictures of coated vehicles.

Another video appeared to show home security camera footage of the dust flying outside on the night of Feb. 23.

After samples of the dust were analyzed, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection announced the material was “predominantly pollen, which trace amounts of mineral matter.”

The dust stumped some weather and environmental officials when it first appeared, while others suggested it was carried from western states by the wind.

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The day after the dust fell, a Virginia meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Chris Strong, said “it’s uncertain at this point” what it was, the Herald-Mail reported. He said his local office was contacting its headquarters to “get a handle” on the source of the dust.

The same day, Maryland Department of the Environment spokesperson Jay Apperson said his agency believed wind likely carried it from Texas and New Mexico, and that a weather front caused some to settle in Maryland, the Herald-Mail reported.

Officials said the dust likely did not originate from the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment that unleashed hazardous chemicals into that area in February. 

A spokesperson for the West Virginia environmental department told AP that continuous air monitoring had not detected any problems since the derailment on Feb. 3. Apperson, the Maryland spokesperson, told the Herald-Mail that air monitoring the day after the dust fell “showed good air quality.”