Giant wall of ‘apocalyptic’ dust in Phoenix, Arizona

06 Aug 2018

An apocalyptic wall of dust engulfed Phoenix, Arizona on 30 July, making the landscape reminiscent of the recent massive dust storms on Mars. The monsoon storm brought a wicked combination of high winds, thunder, lightning, walls of dust, heavy rain and hail to Arizona.

The dust storm, called a haboob, limited visibility to near zero on Phoenix highways during the afternoon commute. The National Weather Service in Phoenix issued several warnings of “near-zero visibility” and “life-threatening travel” due to the combination of intense dust, 50 to 70 mile an hour winds, and the afternoon sun reflecting off dust.

A haboob is an intense dust storm derived from the collapse of a storm system. As a thunderstorm collapses, it releases precipitation and wind gusts outward. These downbursts can be strong enough to suspend particles, creating a wall of turbulent wind and dust/sand. Haboobs occur in arid regions and are common in the Sahara Desert in Africa as well as the arid desert of Arizona.

The Arizona dust storm is akin to the global dust storms documented on Mars. Mars has experienced a global dust storm since late May. The entire planet has turned into a brownish tan blob as dust engulfs every part of the planet. It will likely take months for the storm to clear and settle out. Still excited to colonize Mars?

The hurricane-force wind gusts, blinding dust, hail, and rain sparked interest in storm chasers like Greg McCown across the U.S. Southwest. These storm chasers followed the haboob as it traveled about 250 miles to the southwest until it died out.

Haboobs can be common in Arizona during the late afternoon summer, but this one was exceptionally large. This week, residents will be spending their free time washing off their mud-caked cars and homes and hoping another dust storm isn’t soon to follow.

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