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What is a Haboob?

Updated on April 24, 2014
A haboob in Phoenix, AZ
A haboob in Phoenix, AZ | Source

What is a haboob? The short answer is that it is a dust storm or sand storm. "Haboob" is the Arabic word that describes this desert phenomenon. They are most common in the deserts of northern Africa, the Middle East and the desert regions of Australia and North America.

These intense dust storms are the result of cold downdrafts often at the leading edge of a thunderstorm. Their approach can be ominous as an observer will see a wall of orange dust approaching with surprising speed.

There may be a strange quiet calm as the storm approaches, but when it arrives, the calm quickly disappears. First, the winds start and then the dust arrives, whipping around with reckless force.

It is very dangerous to drive during a haboob. The effect is much like fog, limiting the range of visibility. In addition, the strong winds can be too much for a moving vehicle to handle.

The video below shows what it's like to drive through a haboob. Fast forward to the 6 minute mark to see what it's like in the thick of the sand storm.

Driving through a haboob (recommend start at 6 minute mark)

Another haboob in Phoenix, AZ
Another haboob in Phoenix, AZ | Source

If you must be outside during a sand storm, try to keep your nose and mouth covered as you will want to avoid breathing in the dust in the air. It's a good idea to wear glasses to protect your eyes as well.

A haboob may last a few minutes or several hours, depending on its size and speed. It an cause vast amounts of damage because of the wind and the pelting particles of sand that make up the dust storm.

The most common results of a large haboob are fallen trees or broken tree limbs, etching on cars or even glass and thick powdery dust covering the area. The dust can even find its way under doors and through cracks in windows, so you may discover a fine layer of sand inside after a particularly rough sand storm.


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    • amazingchild profile image

      amazingchild 3 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      I agree! It can get pretty dangerous on the roads, and just dangerous to breathe all those particulates.

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 3 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      I have lived in Arizona for 61 years. The last 2 years have been the most active as far as haboobs, in my humble opinion. It really is best to stay inside if possilbe when these "dust blowers" come in. The incidence of Valley Fever is up 2012-2014 and many feel breathing of exess dust is the culprit. Good hub to let people know how large a dust storm can be.

    • amazingchild profile image

      amazingchild 6 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      "Haboob" is becoming a more common term in Arizona, although it is Arabic in origin. It wasn't as commonly used in the past.

      Thanks for reading!

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 6 years ago from Texas

      We had lots of sand storms where I grew up in the Texas panhandle. And it does hurt when that sand pelts your bare skin. I had never heard of a haboob. Is it a common term used in Arizona?