Zooming Around with Zoe: Haboobs in the Southwest US

Zooming Around With Zoe

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The entire United States has seen its fair share of severe weather so far this summer. That includes a monsoon that recently moved through Arizona.

This system brought powerful winds and a dust storm with a very unusual name to the Tucson, Arizona area. On July 10th, severe thunderstorms were pushing through Arizona. These downpours generated an intense dust storm over Tucson known as a haboob.

This word may sound unusual, but its use in the US actually dates back to 1971. A group of American scientists observed an Arizona dust storm so huge that they proposed calling it a haboob, the term used for the infamous giant dust storms seen in Sudan.

These scientists argued the storm was very similar to those in Sudan, although occurring much less frequently. The name stuck and is used every year in the desert Southwest.

Haboobs occur as a result of thunderstorm winds forcing cool air down in front of the storm system and then pushing it forward along the frontal boundary. This picks up massive amounts of dust and debris on the ground and blows it into the air. It looks like giant walls of dust that can completely block out the sun, making it almost impossible to see just a few feet in front of you.

The screen of dust can climb between 1,500 and 3,000 feet high and can stretch over 100 miles wide. While the storm itself is relatively short, the effects can last for days, with unhealthy air quality leading to difficulty breathing.

Luckily, it is much too humid and wet in Eastern North Carolina for us to see any haboobs, but it’s still a really cool, fairly common weather phenomenon in the desert Southwest.

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