It’s been a big season when it comes to haboobs — towering dust storms that form from the exhaust of thunderstorms — in Arizona. Another massive one tore across southern parts of the state Thursday. It was the third major dust event of the monsoon season in the Phoenix region.
The storms responsible for the haboob caused several significant wind damage reports as well as traffic accidents. There were even injuries reported, as two mobile homes were “demolished” near Arizona City in Pinal County.
Like a notable haboob July 9, Thursday’s was a daytime spectacle. Imagery of towering dust enveloping the landscape flew across social media, as typical when something wild happens. Even if you’ve seen your fair share of haboob imagery, this one was memorable.
Haboob is a fancy term — stolen from Arabic — for a giant dust storm. They are common in the desert Southwest during the North American monsoon season, which focuses on July and August and brings almost daily thunderstorms to the region. Haboobs are formed by winds rushing outward from thunderstorms. They can travel hundreds of miles, wreaking havoc, churning up dust and shrouding the sun in their path.
It’s not uncommon for several haboobs to form in the same season, according to Ken Waters, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Phoenix. “Typically every monsoon season we have two to three super active days, and last night was probably the third one now so far this season,” he said. “The challenge is keeping up with the fast-developing downbursts, and we had several last night.”
Famed Arizona storm chaser and photographer Mike Olbinski was on the front lines, as usual. His video shows Thursday evening’s wall of dust inside and out.
While arguably an active season for mega-haboobs, other weather factors may also be at play for turning up the volume on dust lately.
Meteorologist Jeff Beamish, from the television station KVOA in Tuscon, points at least one finger at drought. “Dust storm frequency is all related to the severe to extreme drought much of Arizona is under,” he said in an email exchange. “Monsoon rains tend to dampen the dust issue by August.” But not this year.
The effects haboobs have depend heavily on where they come from and where they strike.
Ian Schwartz, meteorologist with CBS 5 in Phoenix, said the city’s most intense dust storms “move from south to north or southwest to northeast.”
When haboobs originate from those directions, they encounter lots of farmland where they can pick up plenty of dust.
With significant drought continuing across much of Arizona, Beamish expects there may be more haboobs to come. “The prime haboob zones (Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix and Interstate 8 west of Casa Grande) need about five to eight inches of monsoon rain to reduce drought to moderate levels over the next two months,” he said.
Waters, of the Weather Service, agrees that there are more storms to come, which is good news despite the occasional dust, since the region desperately needs the rain during its monsoon season. “All indications are we are anticipating more of the same, with the 10 to 14 day outlook calling for higher-than-normal chances of precipitation,” Waters said.