A haboob, or dust storm, over Phoenix on Aug. 21. (Ryan Vermillion)

On Sunday afternoon, a thunderstorm collapsed south of Phoenix, and a downward burst of wind collected a towering plume of dust that swept across the region – known as a haboob.

As the cool air descending from this storm, known as its outflow, streamed north and clashed with the hot desert air, a new thunderstorm erupted with the haboob charging out in front of it.

High in the sky to the east, a Southwest Airlines pilot, Ryan Vermillion, captured an unforgettable view of the exploding storm and the dramatic haboob along its edge.

Vermillion was extremely fortunate to witness the blinding wall of dust from the air, as Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport closed just moments after his flight took off.

“I took the photo at about 11,000 feet after departure from Phoenix,” Vermillion said. “We were doing our best to get off the ground before the airport closed, and we ended up being the last to depart. Once we got turned around and headed east, we got a great view! I had to use a panoramic to capture the whole thing, but it really did turn out awesome!”

His photo has since gone viral on social media.

The perspective it provides is reminiscent of another viral photograph from Phoenix of a microburst that was taken from a helicopter in July:


A thunderstorm unleashes a microburst over Phoenix in July. (Bruce Haffner/Andrew Park/Jerry Ferguson)

Just as the haboob was visually stunning from the air, it also produced spectacle on the ground. See photos and an amazing video, below…

(Update, August 25: The introduction to this story was revised to provide a more complete explanation of the content of the lead photograph).