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PHOTOS: Mother of all dust storms hits Arizona

Last updated on: July 7, 2011 16:41 IST

Mother of all dust storms hits Arizona

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Residents of Phoenix, Arizona scurried for cover on Tuesday night as a massive desert sandstorm roared through their city.

The visibility dropped to near zero and coated surfaces with a gritty layer of dust and sand.

The sandstorm, also known as a haboob, was produced by the downdrafts of a collapsing thunderstorm complex generated by the Southwest monsoon.

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When the downdrafts -- made up of rapidly descending air -- smashed down on the desert ground, they stirred up large amounts of sand and dust, subsequently carried forth by the storm outflow.

Haboobs only happen in Arizona, the Sahara desert and parts of the Middle East because of dry conditions and large amounts of sand.


Image: A car outside Sky Harbor International Airport is buried under a thick layer of dust
Photographs: Reuters
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As the haboob hit Phoenix, winds gusted to 53 mph at Sky Harbour International Airport, and the airport was forced to shut down for 45 minutes due to visibilities that fell as low as 1/8 mile.

According to media reports, the storm downed trees, tossed yard furniture, and snuffed out visibility across an area of some 50 miles at its peak on Tuesday evening, although there were no reports of any fatalities


Image: Customers at a local Starbucks cafe continue as if nothing is out of the ordinary

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Mother of all dust storms hits Arizona

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The National Weather Service office in Phoenix called the dust storm "very large and historic," in a statement posted on its website, describing the blow as an "impressive event."

The towering dust cloud that hit the area had originated in an afternoon storm in the Tucson area before moving north across the desert, National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Iniguez told the media.


Image: Despite it being early evening in Phoenix, the thick blanket of dust darkens the landscape and forces drivers to be extra cautious

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Before bearing down on the Phoenix valley, radar data showed the storm's wall of dust had reached as high as 8,000 to 10,000 feet, he said.

Oddly enough, the sand storm is actually a welcome sign for a region that has been gripped by extremely dry weather for months.


Image: Jason Wallace wears a face mask and plays with his phone as he sits with his wife Emily Wallace inside Sky Harbor International Airport during the storm

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The Southwest's annual summer monsoon season is about to begin, and meteorologists are predicting significant rainfall over Arizona and western New Mexico, which have struggled with catastrophic wildfires


Image: A wheelchair is left to gather dust in the aftermath of the 'historic' storm

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Another feature of this type of dust storm is often a significant drop in temperature because the outflow of air is from the top of the top of the thunderstorm cloud.

As the haboob moved over Phoenix, the temperatures dropped four degrees Celsius in ten minutes.


Image: A video grab of the dust storm

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