07 July 2011
Posted in WFTV Severe Weather Center 9
Nothing describes mother natures’ persistence better than the way Barbara Kingsolver puts it in her popular novel, Poisonwood Bible, “this forest eats itself and forever lives.” The fierce forces of nature can be intense and enduringly unpredictable. A dust storm is no different.
Dust storms are not just desert phenomena. They can occur in any dry area where loose dirt is exposed to the elements and can easily be picked up. Heavier grains of sand generally fall back down to the ground after a few hours, but smaller particles can stay in the air for weeks at a time and can be blown thousands of miles.
With the recent wildfire activity out west, there are a lot of small smoke and dust particles already collected in the air, drifting and swirling with the wind currents. If the winds become strong enough, these particles form a wall-like structure and can suddenly loom over hundreds of miles and rise above 10,000 feet.
Usually these storms last only a few minutes, but that is long enough to hinder visibility on the highway, hinder air traffic and threaten the health of those with asthma and other respiratory diseases.
It is estimated that Australia spends an average of $20 million a year on medical bills because of asthma and other respiratory diseases exacerbated by the fierce dust storms.
During the 1960s there were eight dust storms that caused some serious damage; 13 more in the 1970s; 14 in the 80s and more than 20 in the 1990s. Although some storms are not as severe as others, even a mild dust storm is not a pleasant experience to walk through. It is recommended that you seek shelter when you see the wall of dust forming.
This week, a dust storm descended on Phoenix, Arizona, delaying flights and significantly reducing visibility. Many longtime residents say it was the biggest they had ever seen.
This storm is only the first hint of the upcoming monsoon season, which typically starts in mid-June and lasts until the end of September. Below is a link to a video of the wall of dust that hit Phoenix on Tuesday, July 5.