A haboob in Phoenix last summer (Arizona Department of Transportation)

In a matter of moments, they cover everything in their path in a blinding coat of sand and dust. Known as haboobs, these dramatic storms afflict the Desert Southwest each summer.

To raise awareness of their hazards, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) ran a “Haboob Haiku” challenge last week, soliciting the 5-7-5 syllable poems from residents via social media.

Right on cue, the day after the challenge closed, an impressive haboob ripped through an area south of Phoenix.

Video posted to YouTube shows a massive cloud of sand and dust swallowing up the land and sky in Maricopa, AZ, Saturday evening, June 16.

A haboob rushes into Maricopa, Az. Posted to YouTube by whittakerbrock. H/T AccuWeather.

These large dust and/or sand storms form when thunderstorms collapse and their descending air blasts sand into the air. A wall of sand resembling a dust tsunami coalesces when the outflow from the thunderstorms forcefully thrusts the sand outward.

Link: Inside the Phoenix Haboob (July, 2011)

These storms can become a major hazard for drivers. They can also ground flights and produce damaging winds.

They’re most common during the summer monsoon season, which began Friday.

What are you supposed to do if confronted with this kind of sand tidal wave? ADOT says: “Pull Aside * Stay Alive” and has an entire website devoted to that message. The basic idea is you avoid driving into or through a dust storm.

About those Haikus...

Here’s a small selection of some I stumbled upon...

Examples from ADOT

Dust cloud approaching:/The air becomes thick and brown./Pull over and wait

Haboob engulfs you –/Vision obscured and hazy –/Exit the roadway.

Drive with care in dust/Pull aside and stay alive/Wait for dust to pass

Reader submissions via ADOT’s Facebook page

sand flies, no warning/do others see what I see/part fear, part beauty

blind without warning/pull aside and stay alive/those words echo back

blue sky, then the sand/I am alone with the wind/suddenly quiet

A brown, windy mess/Phoenix disappeared again!/Rain rinse coming when?

Haboob blows through town/Brown dirt covers everything/Car washed yesterday

Sand flies left and right/Changing the day, stealing light/Like sideways cyclone

On Twitter

Stop with the driving/already. It’s a freaking /mile-high cloud of dust - @sgv

I am the haboob/made of dust that smells of doom/drive not through me you -@BudgetStorage01