If you live in Arizona, you know that dust storms are no laughing matter. They can strike suddenly and if you’re caught out in one, you’ll need to take precautions to ensure your safety.
What is an Arizona Dust Storm?
An Arizona dust storm is a weather phenomenon caused when cold air from a collapsing thunderstorm rushes toward the ground. When it hits, it picks up huge amounts of dust and sand, blowing them into the air and creating a massive cloud.
Dust storms are also known as haboobs, which is the Arabic word for “blown.” It’s an apt name considering that the winds during a dust storm can reach up to 50 miles per hour.
While some dust storms are small, it’s possible for them to grow large very quickly. One of the biggest dust storms recorded measured 5,000 feet tall and stretched from Goodyear to Apache Junction, a distance of nearly 50 miles.
What to Do If You’re Caught Outside During a Dust Storm
If you’re caught outside and you’re not able to take shelter, you’ll need to take immediate action to protect yourself if you see a dust storm approaching. While flying dust may sting, the high winds of a dust storm can pick up rocks and larger debris. Here’s what to do:
- If you have a bandanna or a spare piece of clothing, tie it over your nose and mouth. If you have a little water, dampen it. (Of course, if you have a mask designed to filter small particulate matter, you should use it.)
- If you have goggles or glasses, put them on.
- If you can do so without risking being struck by lightning or hit by debris, get to high ground. The impact of the dust will be lower there.
- Crouch down and shield your head with your arms, a backpack, or a pillow – or whatever else you have available.
You should wait until the storm has subsided before you attempt to move. It can be very easy to lose your way during a dust storm.
What to Do if You’re Driving During a Dust Storm
If you happen to be driving during a dust storm, your car can serve as a shelter. It’s very important to pay attention to where the storm is and how quickly it’s moving. One of the benefits of Arizona’s flat terrain is that it’s easy to see a dust storm coming in most cases.
Since visibility can change very quickly when a dust storm hits, here are some pointers:
- You can try to outrun the dust storm, but if visibility is less than 300 feet, you should stop driving.
- If you’re on the freeway and can exit safely, do so.
- If you can’t exit, pull to the right side of the road and turn off your headlights and engine.
- Close all windows and exterior vents to prevent dust from getting into your car.
- Put on a mask, goggles, or glasses if you have them.
- Wait out the storm.
If there’s no place to pull over safely, you should drive very slowly with your headlights and hazard lights on. Sound your horn every couple of minutes to let other drivers know that you’re there.
How to Stay Safe at Home
While dust storms can arise quickly, there is usually some warning. If you’re at home and you get a dust storm warning, take it seriously. Here are some things you can do to keep yourself and your home safe:
- If you have time, stow lawn furniture and other items that might be carried off by the wind so that they don’t hit your home (or a neighbor’s home.)
- Close all of your windows and any outside vents, including your chimney flue.
- Since small particles of dust can still get inside, take the same precautions you would if you were caught outside, including protecting your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Do not attempt to go outside until the storm is over.
Remember that your primary concern is safety. You might be tempted to head outside but don’t do so until you’re sure the danger has passed.
Tips for Staying Safe After a Dust Storm
The aftereffects of a dust storm can last for days. In addition to the need to clean up, there’s also a significant decline in air quality. That means that you should:
- Minimize your time outside
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activity
- Wear a mask whenever you go outside
- Keep your windows closed
Eventually the dust will settle, and you’ll be able to get back to life as usual.
Surviving an Arizona dust storm requires a bit of knowledge and preparation. It’s a good idea to keep masks and safety goggles on hand at home and in your car so you’ll have them if you need them.