Giant dust storms in the Southwest

Dust Bowl returning?

Biology News


Picture of a haboob approaching Spearman, Texas during the Dust Bowl era.
Haboob approaching Spearman, Texas (1930s).
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giant dust storm moving in on Ransom Canyon, Texas in 2009.
Giant dust storm moving in on Ransom Canyon, Texas in 2009

A haboob is an intense dust storm (the name haboob is of Arabic origin). Haboobs occur in arid regions throughout the world, particularly in the Sahara desert, the Arabian Peninsula, and the deserts of central Australia, where these dust clouds may reach several kilometers in height and leave a foot-thick blanket of sand covering everything in its path.

Haboobs, giant dust storms — some close to two kilometers high and 160 kilometers wide — walloped Arizona last summer, knocking out electricity, creating traffic jams and grounding airplanes. Even old-timers say they can't remember anything quite like these recent aerial assaults. Meanwhile Texas is experiencing one of the most extreme droughts in recent history, with almost 90 percent of the state in the most extreme level of drought. Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and other states are also experiencing drought conditions. The worry is that this might be just the start of a trend, as reported in the November 2011 issue of the journal EARTH: Over the next couple of decades, researchers say, the American West will transition to an environment that may make the 1930s Dust Bowl seem mild and brief.

The problem, according to the article, entitled "Return of the Dust Bowl," is that rising temperatures will contribute directly and indirectly to there being more dust in the air. Then, persistent droughts, increasingly violent and variable weather patterns, urban and suburban development, and even off-road recreational vehicle usage will compound the problem.

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Picture of a massive haboob about to envelope a military camp at Al Asad, Iraq, just before nightfall on April 27, 2005.
A massive haboob about to envelope a military camp at Al Asad, Iraq, just before nightfall on April 27, 2005.

Adapted from materials obtained from the AAAS


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