Monsoon Safety Awareness Week: Dust Storms

Weather Talk

POSTED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 12:49pm

UPDATED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 1:05pm

Thunderstorm induced "Haboob" Dust Storms can be dangerous and unhealthy

Monsoon Safety Awareness Week continues with today’s topic “Dust Storms” These are caused by thunderstorm induced down draft or down burst winds. Check out yesterday’s “Weather Talk” Monsoon Safety Awareness Week: Downbursts for more;

Here all across the Borderland we see more than our share of dust storms. We almost kick used to seeing that light brown haze reduce visibility, kick up our allergies and cause us to clean our house twice as much as normal.. In today’s “Weather Talk”  I will tell you what causes these dust storms, why they can be dangerous and share some National Weather Service

The term, "haboobs" (pronounced “huh-boobs”) is derived from the Arabic word "haab", which means "wind or blow", haboobs are very strong dust and sand storms that move through hot and dry regions. They are common in arid regions such as the Sahara desert, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. We also us that term to describe thunderstorm induced dust storms here in the southwestern United States and in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.

We also us that term "haboob" to describe thunderstorm induced dust storms here in the southwestern United States. The haboob dust storms are most common during this time of year early June through the beginning of July. The ground is dry this time of year, especially with our current drought, so the down draft winds from dying thunderstorms have an easier time of kicking up more dust.

Arizona dust storms were first called “haboobs” in the October 1972 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The article, “An American Haboob”, written by Sherwood Idso of Tempe, Arizona. He analyzed a July 16, 1971, Valley dust storm that had the same characteristics as the ones in the Sudan in northern Africa.
Tthese powerful downdraft winds or down burst can be as strong as 57 mph to some small scale micro burst winds exceeding 168 mph. Here are some  Natioanl Oceanic and Atmosphereic (NOAA) facts worth repeating from yesterday’s Downburst Weather Talk”;

Damaging winds extending 2 1/2 miles or less
Lasts 5 to 15 minutes
Can cause damaging winds as high as 168 MPH!
Damaging winds extending more than 2 1/2 miles
lasting 5 to 30 minutes
Damaging winds, causing widespread, tornado-like damage, could be as high as 134 MPH!

How frequently do downbursts occur?
NOAA says "Downbursts are much more frequent than tornadoes - in fact, for every 1 tornado there are approximately 10 downburst damage reports!"

Tornadoes-Average of 800 per year in the U.S..
Thunderstorms- Average of 100,000 per year in the U.S..

When the force of these winds are so strong they can produce walls of dust in all directions, but there is usually one leading edge at the front of the storm pushing the wall of dust up and forward.
Here is a good explanation from NOAA: “Just how do haboobs form? When air is forced down and pushed forward by the front of a traveling thunderstorm cell, it drags with it dust and debris. Winds of speeds up to 60 mph can stir up dust and sand and create a blowing wall as high as 10,000 feet. Haboobs usually last only 10 to 30 minutes, but on rare occasions can last longer and create hazardous conditions for ground transportation systems, air traffic and motorists.”
The average “haboob” lasts 10 to 30 minutes but some “haboobs” have been known to last for many hours traveling over hundreds of miles
These dust storms are known to halt airline flights, knock out power and turn swimming pools into mud pits.

Breathing in this dust can be very unhealthy. As well as aggravating allergies and sparking off astma attacks, dust particle build up can be very harmful building up in your lungs.

What do I do if I see a wall of dust headed my way?
Here are some National Weather Service tips;

• -Remain indoors and close the windows
• If caught outside cover you face and head to shelter
• If driving pull off the road, STOP and put you car in park, Turn off you lights and set your emergency brake.
• If you cant pull over, use the painted center line to help guide you. Turn on your headlights and sound your horn occasionally to make other moroists aware of you
Why do you keep your lights off if you are pulled off and parked on the side of the road? Because in “zero visibility” motorists still driving on the road are looking for any clue that they are still on the road. When they see you lights, they instinctively head right for them thinking there is the road and they run right into you.

Now we know what these thunderstorm induced downburst dust are, how hazardous they can be and what to do in case we are caught in a wall of desert dust and debris. Be sure to check back here again tomorrow as we discuss a topic that can be also very dangerous this time of year in Monsoon Safety Awareness Week: Heat Stress.

.Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX

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