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What the heck is a Haboob?!

Now stop your giggling at once people! Yes we're talking about Haboobs, but no it's nothing dirty at all. Rather, it's the scientific term used to describe massive dust storms like what folks in Phoenix experienced yesterday. Man was it something crazy to see.

Here's an incredible time-lapse video of the Phoenix haboob: http://vimeo.com/26045314

Courtesy of ABC 15 in Phoenix:

All I can say it WOW! You're looking at a massive wall of desert dust is rushing across the Valley of the Sun engulfing everything in it's path. This Haboob, as it's known by us meteorologists, was anywhere from 50-70 miles wide and has been estimated to be as high as 5,000 thousand feet tall --- seriously! So what is a Haboob - and what in the world causes it?

Believe it or not, haboobs typically originate out of thunderstorms. In a t-storm, you'll find regions of rapidly rising air on one side of the cell and rapidly descending air on the other side. We calls these updrafts and downdrafts. Sometimes, these downdrafts can be particularly intense -- even upwards of 100 mph. Many times you'll hear this referred to as a downburst/microburst or damaging straight line winds.

When a downburst hits the ground coming down from a cloud is spreads out rapidly in all directions. In an arid, desert region such as central Arizona, downbursts like these can easily "pick up" and suspend sand and dust particles in the air, carrying them for miles and miles. This is what you see when you're looking at the haboob - the downburst winds traveling across the ground picking up sand along the way.

When a haboob overtakes your area, it gets dark - really dark. Visibility will typically drop to near zero almost instantly and it will look and feel like nighttime. Sometimes these conditions can last as long as 3 hours or so in particularly strong dust storms. While haboobs themselves are not particularly dangerous, the dust can be harmful to one's eyes and it can be difficult to breathe.

Now this isn't just a phenomenon in Arizona, dust storms like these are found throughout the deserts of the world. In fact, the US Military has had to battle haboobs in Iraq and Afghanistan in military operations there for years. Here is a photo taken by a Marine from Al Asad, Iraq in 2005:

 Here in the US, places in the Southwest will see these from time to time during the summer months as thunderstorms roam the area during their "monsoon" season. According to the National Weather Service, Phoenix typically sees about 3 of these haboobs each year between June and September.

As for us, we can thank our vegetation for keeping these dust storms away from us. Since our dirt is anchored down by grass and trees, these downbursts during thunderstorms only bring the high winds - not the clouds of dust and darkness that we see in these incredible images from the desert.

So now I want you to go to your friends and have them try and use haboob in a sentence. Keep it clean please!

- TB

By: Tim Buckley

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