What is a Haboob?

Summer Desert Storms Bring Haboobs to Phoenix, AZ

Dust storm rolling over residential area
••• jeff1farmer / Getty Images

The word "haboob" comes from the Arabic word habb, meaning “wind.” A haboob is a wall of dust as a result of a microburst or downburst. The air forced downward is pushed forward by the front of a thunderstorm cell, dragging dust and debris with it, as it travels across the terrain.

Haboobs occur mostly during the summer months in Phoenix but are not necessarily restricted to the monsoon period. These dust storms are much more serious than dust devils.

The wind during a haboob is usually up to about 30 mph and dust can rise high into the air as it blows over the Valley. A haboob can last for up to three hours. It usually arrives suddenly.

I took the photograph that appears on this page on July 5, 2011. I was driving the car, saw the wall of dust and pulled over — not only to take the photograph but for safety. That haboob was one of the most significant dust storms ever documented in the Valley of the Sun. It certainly wasn't sunny then! According to the National Weather Service, that storm was historic. Winds gusted over 50 miles per hour and it was determined that the dust reached at least 5,000 to 6,000 feet into the air. The leading edge stretched for almost 100 miles, and the dust traveled at least 150 miles. You can read extensive detail about this particular storm at the NOAA website.

Phoenix experiences various degrees of severity of these dust storms, but the haboob is the largest and most dangerous.

According to the National Weather Service, Phoenix experiences on average about three haboobs per year during the months of June through September.

Not every dust storm is a haboob. Generally, dust storms are closer to the ground and more widespread, where the wind p;icks up the desert dust and blows it across a wide area.

Haboobs are typically more concentrated, created by those thunderstorm cells, lifting the debris and dust much higher into the air.

While a haboob is fascinating to watch (but not as interesting to clean up after!) it is important to know what to do to be safe during this type of storm. Don't take photos while you are driving! These general tips about monsoon safety in the Phoenix area also apply to occasions when haboobs occur. If you are concerned about Valley Fever affecting you, your family, or your family pet, stay out of the dust!

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