West Virginia and Maryland residents woke up to mysterious white dust falling from the sky, coating their cars and fueling conspiracy theories. Social media was flooded with photos and videos of the peculiar particles, leaving residents to speculate about its origin. Sherry Miller of Inwood, West Virginia, was confused when she saw something unusual in her driveway. It was too warm for it to be snowing. She described it as looking like ash and asked her husband if it was from the wood stove, but he said it was all over Berkeley County.
Some residents questioned whether the strange dust was related to Ohio’s Feb. 3 toxic train derailment. However, environmental officials quickly shot down rumors, saying that there was no indication it was related to the derailment. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection collected samples of the fallen dust to have them analyzed over the weekend. On Monday, the department eased concerns and had determined that the mysterious dust was predominantly pollen, with trace amounts of mineral matter.
The samples were investigated by West Virginia University’s Department of Geology and Geography and the university’s Shared Research Facility. Samples were also taken to the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey to determine whether the dust was from a recent dust storm in Texas and New Mexico that travelled east through Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky on Thursday. According to some meteorologists tracking blowing dust in New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, the layer of dust moved from the Great Plains to West Virginia. It picked up the dust on the storm’s backside and dragged it across the country. The dust remained elevated in the atmosphere as the storm remained strong.