TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Haboob is an Arabic word referring to a giant, intense dust storm.
Unlike a localized event of blowing dust, these clouds of dust can overcome metropolitan areas with millions of people; snarling traffic and closing airports. In most areas of the world, including in Arizona, haboobs are created as powerful thunderstorms collapse.
During the Monsoon, strong thunderstorms pop up over southern Arizona. These thunderstorms provide the winds that create haboobs.
Powerful gusty winds called microbursts come out of the strongest of these storms. Typically, that wind slows down as it blows over a long distance because of friction between the ground and the moving air. But in the haboob setup here in southern Arizona, gravity is at play.
At 2,400 feet above sea level, Tucson is 1,300 feet higher than Phoenix. When the winds move towards Phoenix, they move downhill, gaining power and speed.
The land between Tucson and Phoenix, is largely agricultural. Abandoned or retired farm fields dot the areas between active farms. Plus, some of the land is open desert with little vegetation. Each of these provide the dust and dirt needed to create a haboob.
As gusty winds move over this land, dust and dirt kicks up into the air, creating a dust storm. When that dust storm becomes large enough to lower visibility to near 0 miles over a large area, it is called a haboob.
The gusty winds then drive this dust into the Phoenix area.
Chances of haboobs are higher during times of drought. Dry conditions during drought result in even more available soil for a haboob to feed on. This year, a wet spring lowers the risk of large dust storms, but they are still possible when powerful monsoon storms hit the area.