Saturday, July 18, 2009

Haboobs!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last night I tweeted (PaRock@Twitter.com) about a serious dust storm that had just raged through the Valley of Hell leaving thousands of homes without power. Good friend Mike Box, a Kansan who once lived in Arizona but got smart, responded with an email discussing the phenomenon of an "haboob" - one of those massive, dangerous dust storms that I had described.

According to Mike, "The haboob is a naturally occurring event in the Arizona Sonoran dessert and the Horn of Africa. Fortunately these things tend to happen during daylight and can be seen coming. The sky takes on a reddish yellowish cast as the storm front approaches. Visibility can drop to zero. If you are traveling in the city and see it coming, pull into a restaurant order a cup of joe and wait it out. On the other hand if you are on I-10 between the Capitol City and Tuscon, then pull over as far as you can off of the road. Then turn off, yes off, your lights and take your foot off the brake."

Mike's rationale for getting off the road and "going dark" was that as the road completely disappears during an event like this, not every driver is smart enough to stop driving. If your tail lights are on, some numb nuts may see them and assume that you are tooling on down the road - right up to the point where he rear ends your car!

Yesterday's was the third "haboob" that I have been through in Arizona. During two I was home and able to sit back and observe, much as one would marvel at a thunder and lightening storm in the Ozarks. But during one of the haboobs I was driving down Litchfield Road, a four-lane thoroughfare in the West Valley. I was almost home and didn't have the good sense to pull over. Tumbleweeds and a couple of lawn chairs flew across my path, but the force of the winds could have easily propelled larger items into the traffic flow - cars, trees, or even people. Getting home quickly is not worth the risk!

So now I must be on the lookout for scorpions, rattlesnakes, and haboobs. Will the list of Arizona terrors never end?

2 comments:

molly. said...

It seems like the area you are in is more likely to get hit by those things.. there's lots of open space. We rarely saw anything like that in town. I remember watching trash swirl up into the sky & stuff like that. They looked like miniature tornadoes.

Mike Box said...

In other parts of the world the outflow boundary associated with a storm moving in is called a gust front. In the Sonora it is more aptly called a dust front. As the storm approaches it kicks up the loose debris from the dessert floor. This creates the haboob. The haboob, therefore, will approximate the length of the incoming storm. I have seen them extend from Prescott to Yuma.

These storms tend to be associated with the monsoons. Monsoon is a term which refers not to rain but rather to the change of wind direction and the increased level of humidity. During the monsoon season in Arizona the winds tend to come in from the southeast, bringing in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.