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Published:November 24th, 2012 18:38 EST
Scientists Can Now Predict Approaching Dust Storms?

Scientists Can Now Predict Approaching Dust Storms?

By Ron G Anselm

Imagine driving down the highway in Arizona, New Mexico and even Texas, strolling along minding your own business in your old 1989 Ford Truck (with a tad of wear around the edges and over one-hundred thousand miles on it but it still performs when you turn the ignition key). You have the radio spitting out the lap of luxury of old Jazz songs that made Miles Davis famous and you`re bee bopping to the old sounds of heaven when all of a sudden you look to the West and see what appears to be a wall of nothing but millions of particles that cover every square inch from the hot desert sand to the highest clouds and extends for miles. The wall of whatever is inching its way toward you and soon your field of vision as you continue driving down the highway will be as impaired as a blind man trying to hit the bull`s-eye on a dart board at some watering hole`s back door recreation room.

If you live in the Southwestern United States then you know the hazards that dust storms can create when you drive. There have been more dust storms this year in Phoenix than probably in the history of the state of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas combined.

With the recent onslaught of dust storms in the Southwest and the hazards they have created, scientists and Atmospheric Physicists have brainstormed and developed an early warning system to predict the path and danger of developing dust storms but the technology is still in the process and ongoing. To be able to accurately predict an early warning system that can see developing dust storms, scientist have linked together technology from storm research, forecasting, and early warning tools from various and different countries.

We have a good set of weather technology and forecasting now that can see a severe line of thunderstorms as good as a sniper looking through the scope of his rifle zeroing in on his target and we have Doppler Radar that can find a future tornado that is about to sprout a funnel as if it were an old beach bum combing the sand with a metal detector looking for chump change but now we have the added threat of sand storms that have raised concern with scientists and with that threat has come added technology to be able to predict future ones.

To get an idea of how it is to drive in a blinding dust storm you need to get an opinion from an old professional on this subject. Bob Poindexter who has been an Arizona firefighter for over twenty-one years commented on this by stating two facts in his statement, "You can`t see anything, you`re blinded."(Poindexter, B.) So, probably not a very good idea to say, Hey, Honey, let`s take a trip to nowhere on our normal weekly Sunday drive in the desert while there is an approaching dust storm. You may end up with a cactus as a hood ornament as your car swerves off the road and into a sea of desert cactuses because you can`t see an inch in front of your windshield with the blowing sand that covers your car like a mother wrapping her baby in the suave of a soft blanket.

It`s definitely not a good idea to try to drive in a dust storm but it`s even a worse idea to try to breathe in a dust storm. Scientists say dust storms can also be a health hazard, carrying mold, viruses and bacteria for miles. So, if you`re looking to take a sick day off from work, just go out and stand in the middle of a dust storm. You will sure be able to get that flu virus, bacteria, or mold that will make your sinus passages as clogged as your bath tubs drain is with your hair and give you that added edge of catching who knows what.

If your mind is currently wondering about thoughts like, Ok, great. " I know we have good weather technology that can predict tornadoes and approaching storms with Doppler radar and other entities but how in the world can scientists predict an approaching dust storm? I mean, dust is not made up of clouds like normal thunderstorms are that are formed from precipitation and millions of tiny rain drops. Dust is dust and formed from particles coming from just about anything, so how can scientific radar be able to pick dust storms up?

Good question, Physicist Bill Sprigg, Ph.D., has studied dust storms all over the world that affect us here in the United States -- like a massive African storm in 2004, so he has the qualifications for thinking out of the box. Dr. Sprigg and his team have come up with an idea to use a computer model that can predict when, where and how much dust will come. He also commented on it by saying, "The kinds of models that we are using allow us to forecast where this dust is going to be anywhere in the world," (Sprigg, D.)

The ongoing research into predicting approaching dust storms is not just pinpointed to Dr. Sprigg, meteorologists and weather research scientists, some of the heavy hitters like NASA, the United States Navy, and NOAA are in on the action and research. The objective is to hopefully one day be able to forecast accurately and with early warning of an approaching dust storm which could in turn help millions of people get out of harm`s way before the dust storm hits and to be able to help people not just in this country but all over the world with this new scientific technology. To link the information on the prediction of dust storms you have to get an idea of how these dirty particle storms operate.

The way dust storms form is primarily during the months of summer and winter in the Sarah desert. There are also some years that dust storms may not form at all and that fact is as unsure why to scientists as a grammar school student cheating on a test and just putting any answer to the tests questions, there is really no rhyme or reason why but scientists continue to try to answer that question.

When the dust storms do form in the Sarah millions of tons of sand rises up and floats across the Atlantic Ocean, in some cases the trip for the sand is short-lived as it may only take a few as a few days to complete the trip across the ocean.

The sand swirls and forms into a dust storm when hot desert air collides with the cooler and dryer air in the Sarah desert region which is almost the same concept of how a thunderstorm forms which is when warmer air collides with cooler air and forms a storm front. The process takes place in the Southern Sahara part of the region and the collision of the two unbalanced temperatures which also forms strong winds. As the winds kick the dust into swirling patterns that take an upward turn the strong trade winds blow them west into the northern Atlantic Ocean. Scientists are also looking at the possibility that these dust storms might also suppress the development of the late year hurricanes that form in this region of the world.

These dust storms are not just an eye sore to the average traveler that may be so unlucky to get caught traveling within them; they also impact the environment is three ways. First, they are extremely dry and cover a large area. Second, they carry with them strong winds and third, the dust absorbs heat and prevents the formation of clouds.

Dry, dust-ridden layers of air may help to dampen brewing hurricanes, which need heat and moisture to fuel them. That effect could also mean that dust storms have the potential to shift a hurricane`s path further to the west, giving it a higher chance of hitting US soil. (

With that thought of hurricanes having more of a potential of hitting the Eastern United States with the dust storms acting like a steering mechanism and shifting hurricanes more toward the west would not give me very much confidence to go out and buy beach from property along the East coast anytime soon.

More research is ongoing and probably one day in the near future scientists will figure out a way to make predicting approaching dust storms as easy as they predict an oncoming front line of thunderstorms.


Dust Storms: Early Warning, (2012) Atmospheric Physicists Develop Dust Storm Forecasting System,

( Retrieved 2012.

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