Fascinating Meteorology Terms: Haboob

| November 30, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

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Photo of a Haboob taken by NWS Phoenix office in Arizona, July 2011.

A Haboob is what a lot of local arid climate residents call a dust storm. “Haboob” is a term derived from the Arabic word “habb” meaning “wind”. This type of dust storm is created from a strong thunderstorm downdraft called a downburst. Starting as a downdraft of cold air descending from a storm, the cold dense air hits the ground at a strong speed and extends outward. The strong outward flowing wind sweeps up dry sand and dirt from the ground as it travels. This doesn’t always happen with every storm. Haboobs are unique and only occur in certain parts of the world. Areas that frequently see weather like this are arid climates, mostly dry with little trees and sandy soil. Places that have these types of climates are Northern Africa: specifically Sudan and the Saharan Desert, The Middle East, Australia, and in North America: such as western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. These storms will occur more frequently in these areas during the summer and/or Monsoon seasons.

The wind from a Haboob can carry dust long distances and can be rather intense reaching up to 62 miles wide and traveling up to 62 miles per hour. They approach with little to no warning and can recede just as quickly. You can typically see a Haboob before it reaches your area because these dust clouds are thick and brown with tons of sand, dirt, and debris. Just as soon as you see one approaching, it is already starting to affect your area. What makes these storms so dangerous is how quickly they appear and how quickly they reduce visibility down to almost zero. In these conditions, it is important to pull over when driving and wait until the Haboob has passed. High winds can whip small particles like dust and sand, pelting anything that stands in the way. This can be hazardous to a person’s respiratory system. Small particles can enter your nose and mouth making breathing difficult, triggering severe irritation to the throat and lungs. Eyes and ears can also be infiltrated by these particles causing painful irritation. Before a Haboob passes your area, It is important to find shelter immediately if you are outside. The high winds of a Haboob also have the ability to blow dust and sand into cracks. It is essential to close all windows, doors and block cracks and vents with rags to prevent dust particles from entering your home or place of shelter.

Haboobs can sometimes be mistaken for Sandstorms. Sandstorms and Haboobs, although look similar, embody different characteristics. Sandstorms usually occur with and are created by high winds as Haboobs originate from thunderstorms only. Sandstorms tend to be more widespread and near the surface as Haboobs are concentrated in a more localized area. Sandstorms also occur strictly in desert like climates when Haboobs can be frequent in both desert and dry arid steppe climates like dry, grassy plains. Sandstorms tend to carry heavier particles like sand and small rocks, near the surface. Since these particles are heavier they don’t get suspended in the air as easily as smaller dust particles carried by a Haboob. Sandstorm winds are stronger but typically aren’t as turbulent as Haboob winds.

A very interesting and unique meteorological term, Haboob has quite a ring to it. It’s certainly something you won’t forget. If this really interested you, stay tuned for the next article in the series of Fascinating Meteorology Terms. We will be turning to a more wintery type of weather to discuss the term “Graupel”. Some of you northerners might recognize it!    

© 2018 Meteorologist Alex Maynard

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