Haboobs in the United States

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Haboobs, also known as convectively-driven dust storms, are intense, large-scale dust storms that occur in arid regions. Haboobs are most well known for occurring in the Sahara desert and in the Arabian Peninsula. The word haboob stems from the Arabic word haab, which means “wind” or “blow”.

Where do haboobs happen in the United States?

Haboobs are also common in the United States, particularly in the Southwestern region of the country. These dust storms frequently form during the summer following severe thunderstorms.

A satellite image with labels for places over Mexico and Texas showing a dust storm.
On March 31, 2017, the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite obtained took  this image of dense dust plumes extending from northern Mexico into Texas and New Mexico. Image: NASA, public domain.

Haboobs are most commonly found in Arizona. During “haboob season” these dust storms can occur several times each year. According to NOAA, about 100 haboobs were recorded in Arizona over a ten-year period.

The city of Phoenix, which is located in the Salt River Valley in central Arizona, is an urban area in Arizona that is particularly susceptible to haboobs. The North American Monsoon fuels the development of haboobs near the city as cooler air from these thunderstorms interacts with the topographic features of the area to create dust storms.

On July 5, 2011, for example, a 100-mile wide dust storm swept across Pheonix, Arizona at speeds that were 50 to 60 miles per hour. This haboob developed after thunderstorms in eastern and southern Arizona collided that day that fueled high winds and whipped up dust.

A dust storm approaching the city of Phoenix, Arizona.
A haboob approaching the city of Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: © Eduardo Barraza/stock.adobe.com.

Haboobs can also occur in other states such as Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Haboobs in the United States are typically smaller and less intense than those that occur in the Sahara desert, but they can still cause significant damage and disruption to roadway traffic and farms. These severe dust storms can also ground air traffic and cause power outages.

Haboobs can also bring a significant amount of dust and debris into the air, which can pose a health risk to people with respiratory issues. These dust storms can cause a lung issue known as haboob lung syndrome” in humans.

How do haboobs form?

Haboobs form when the front of a moving thunderstorm cell pushes air down and forward, dragging dust and debris behind it. A haboob starts with cool winds from a downdraft from a single but large cumulonimbus cloud results in a whirlwind at ground level. This turbulent movement of wind then picks up dust, sand, and other debris to create the haboob.

Winds at speeds of up to 60 mph can blast a wall of sand and dust up to 10,000 feet in height. These winds can damage buildings, disrupt traffic, and severely reduce visibility.

In Arizona, haboobs can cause walls of debris and dust can stretch for miles and be thousands of feet in height.

Haboobs are usually short-lived dust storms, typically lasting between 10 to 30 minutes.

A haboob can be seen traveling south over parts of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas while wildfires burn in New Mexico in this animation of imagery from NOAA’s GOES-16 weather satellite on April 29, 2022.

References

Haboobs: Phenomena with the unusual name is no joke. (2012, August 21). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. https://www.noaa.gov/stories/haboobs-phenomena-with-unusual-name-is-no-joke

Raman, A., Arellano Jr, A. F., & Brost, J. J. (2014). Revisiting haboobs in the southwestern United States: An observational case study of the 5 July 2011 Phoenix dust storm. Atmospheric Environment89, 179-188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2014.02.026

Reed, L., & Nugent, K. (2018). The health effects of dust storms in the Southwest United States. The Southwest Respiratory and Critical Care Chronicles6(22), 42-46.

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