UPDATED--Arizona haboob dust storms: rare, or regular?

UPDATE: Saturday July 21 there was a dust storm (AKA haboob) in the Phoenix Arizona area. There is another one going on in Phoenix now, July 23, 2012. It was a quickly developing storm that took weather forecasters by surprise. The photo immediately below does not depict the July 21 storm.

Monday aft. dust storm
In learning that the average amount of these dust storms are two to three for any given summer season, the tally as of this moment is currently five. Just 12 hours ago it was four. Freak weather happening faster and faster. Today's storm: (source)
 --------------------------end update----------------------------

On July 21, 2012, a massive dust storm hit Arizona. There are dramatic photos and videos of this storm event making the rounds on the internet. The July 21 storm was particularly harsh, and it knocked out power to thousands. These storms are called haboobs, from an Arabic word that means 'blown.' Winds can reach up to 50 miles an hour, and can obscure visibility to nothing in a matter of seconds. They can last a few minutes or up to three hours. The photos that are posted after the storm hits are often dramatic and eye-catching. Like this one at Huffington Post via AP from July 2011--

I've seen these photos for a couple years now. I got to wondering if haboobs are usual or unusual. (Usual). They happen in the summer, during what Arizona strangely calls their monsoon season, from June to September. They occur because there is a huge valley and air gets pushed down and thunder...well, you can read the explanation from a certified meteorologist here if you want.

I wrote about the July 2011 storm, here, in hopefully a straightforward, unspeculative manner. However, that storm, while occurring in normal manner at a normal time of year for haboobs, was especially ferocious. There were elements of that storm that seasoned weather forecasters had never seen before. One meteorologist is quoted in that article,
"But yesterday's haboob was more like something you'd see in the Middle East or other arid regions around the world, said Ken Waters, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Phoenix. It was mind-boggling, just absolutely amazing," Waters told OurAmazingPlanet. "I've been a meteorologist for years and I've not seen a wall of dust like that.""

We see prophetic events coming on us faster and faster now. We see the many earthquakes happen and we ask if they are happening more frequently now. (Yes). We see so many volcanoes erupting and we ask if there are more volcanoes erupting now. (Yes). So we always need to place an event in context and look at it from all angles before declaring that a single dust storm may be an omen of the Apocalypse. Are the events being described rare, or regular? Even if the event is common, were there elements of it that were unusual? What do people with knowledge say about the event?

We should do this so that we can share reasonable information with people. And the more reasonable we are the more credibility we'll have. The more credibility we have, the more (perhaps) a lost person will listen. That is the goal.

Let's take a look at haboobs of Arizona to see whether there is anything special to remark about.

We have established that haboobs are a regular feature of summer season in Arizona. The next question is, how many haboobs usually occur during the season? The Weather Channel's Sean Breslin answers the question "Summer Arizona Haboobs: Rare or Regular?" saying that each season the area will see "a couple." He noted that last year's July 5, July 18 and August 18 storms were par for the course.

This article says that there are on average about three dust storms per year. OK, so a couple to three.

2012 has already produced four.

May 9, June 26, June 27, and July 21

That is one thing I look at, sheer numbers. Secondly, the haboob season is usually June to September and the first one this year already occurred outside the normal boundaries of the season. Then, look at a particular event to determine if there were unusual things about it. Last year's July storm was particularly nasty, containing elements that meteorologists have not seen before, such as the height of the dust stretching into the atmosphere. Also the speed of the wind. And third, that storm produced more damage than usual.

This season there have been four already and the season is only half over. Also, there was an unusual event in that two of the haboobs occurred a day apart, back to back. As we go on with summer monsoon season in Arizona, now you have some background to let us know if more haboobs occur, it will be above the norm. It already is.


  1. We in the West are not living in a "norm" year at all. We are in deep drought. There is no rain, or very little rain, so far this year, following a winter with very little snow, and last year with very little rain.

    I'm curious if these haboobs are typical for drought years. Yes, this is monsoon season - normally moisture is drawn up off the Gulf and flows all the way up through Arizona, through New Mexico and Colorado and even up into Wyoming. This is the time of year we get our rains - usually! And we did get a tiny bit last week. But the West is in such a deep drought that the ground is bone dry again. It may not seem like it, but even in Arizona there is usually enough ground cover to keep the dust down a bit when the wind blows - and it blows a lot and STRONGLY during storms. There have also been several huge fires that have burned off the ground cover completely in the past few years (several are still burning now) and that leaves the ground ready for even small breezes to blow dust (and ash) easily. The desert and prairies are known for their dust devils and always have been (miniature tornados).

    The year I was born the dust storms were so bad here in Colorado that my grandparents would hang wet sheets over the closed doors and windows and have to change them every half hour - and they'd have a quarter inch of dirt on them by then. The butter dish was kept in the fridge in a covered bowl and the dust was so pervasive that the butter was covered in dust when they got it out to use it. There were several that year, as well as in the year that proceeded and followed.

    People who lived through those years back in the '50's are beginning to compare this year to then. And that is not even the Dust Bowl years!

    Are there any records for haboobs OR huge dust storms in Arizona from the 30's and 50's? (I am pretty sure no one ever used the word haboob back then.) The population was not very large in the SouthWest in those years. It might be worth checking out.

    1. Very interesting comment, Anonymous. I'm intrigued, and I'll check it out. Thank you. The drought definitely is making things worse, I'm sure. MO just put in for disaster money due to the ongoing drought. All that topsoil, just blowing away...

  2. This makes me chuckle, considering you wrote Yes to are there more volcanoes now. I think the answer depends on what you are looking for.
    "Does all this activity mean that volcanism is on the rise in Colombia? Probably not – in fact, this might be a great case on how increased volcano monitoring helps us become more aware of how restless volcanoes can be when they aren’t erupting or about to erupt. Many of the volcanoes on Yellow Alert III status, like Cumbal and Machin, are only experiencing earthquakes are no one on the surface would even notice. So before many of these volcanoes were wired with seismometers, they could have experienced activity like this and no one would notice. The same can be said for volcanoes worldwide – we can capture so much more subtle information about volcanic activity today than we could even 15 years ago. This can give that false impression that there is more volcanic activity, but rather, we’re just getting more information about what volcanoes do all the time."

    1. The article notes several volcanoes waking up after long slumbers or after never having erupted at all.

      "After an almost 20 year slumber, Nevado del Ruiz has sprung back to life this year..."

      "Machín, a neighbor of Ruiz, has also seen elevated levels of seismicity over the past few years..."

      "After over 450 years of quiet, Nevado del Huila came back to life in 2008...

      "The latest volcano to join the parade of elevated activity is Cumbal... "

      And those are just Columbia. Don't forget about the sudden explosion of Eritrea's Nabro, a volcano that never had erupted. And Chile's Chaiten, which hadn't erupted in 9000 years (scientists say). Among other examples...

      The usual response by science is that "we have more sensors now" which is what Klemetti said despite reporting on the increased activity! For many reasons I've explained in the earthquake essays I've posted, I don't buy it.

      However due to the difficulty in determining exactly what constitutes a volcanic eruption, and the length of eruptions (taking place over many days or months or even years), admittedly the quantifiable data is harder to sort thru than it is for quakes.

      However, I believe the article made the case that there is more volcanic activity, and combined with obvious increased activity in other volcanoes around the world, I believe the answer to the question "Is there more volcanic activity?" is yes. That is why I cited it. You are free to disagree, which you have.

      Your condescending avuncular chuckles notwithstanding, the end times are here, and the Tribulation is soon to begin. I'm not laughing. I'm not even chuckling. My concern for you is: are you ready for Jesus's soon return?


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