Tips for Staying Safe During a Haboob

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A haboob taking place in Phoenix
A dust storm, also known as a haboob, can blanket the sky for miles in a thick cloud of dust as it travels. Photo By: Alan Stark via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Haboob: It’s an unusual term for a very serious event – an intense dust storm that every Arizonan should know how to prepare for.

It’s most commonly experienced in the deserts of North Africa or Arabia, and the term itself is Arabic for “strong wind,” but Arizona is no stranger to this spectacular dust storm. The National Weather Service reports that our state sees an average of three haboobs a year. They usually occur within the monsoon season, from May through September when Arizona receives much of its annual precipitation, according to Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

This year, Phoenix saw its first haboob on July 12 and most recently on Aug. 26, according to the NWS. So, how do haboobs actually happen? Well, they’re a result of thunderstorms. Storms travel and accumulate wind and precipitation. And when they break and it begins to rain, pressure is suddenly released and winds fall down and out, creating a force that picks up and carries dust and debris, according to the NWS. Haboobs can result in wind gusts of more than 70 mph and cause visibility to drop to just a quarter mile, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. That’s why it’s wise to learn how to prepare yourself for such a storm. And there’s

Car pulled over during a haboob

It is important to pull off the road while you still have visibility.  Photo By: Greg Gorman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

no better time to do it - September is National Preparedness Month and we’re still in monsoon season. Here are some things to know if you’re ever caught in a haboob. If you’re in a car, the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Pull Aside Stay Alive campaign suggests the following:

  • Safely pull off the road while you still have visibility. Do not stop in a travel or emergency lane.
  • Turn off car headlights and interior lights so that other travelers don’t assume you are on the road and try to follow you.
  • Make sure all windows are rolled up and doors are tightly shut.
  • Close air vents so dust doesn’t come into the vehicle.
  • Stay in your vehicle with seatbelts fastened and wait for the storm to pass.

If you’re inside a home or building:

  • Close all windows, curtains and blinds and shut all doors.
  • Turn off the air conditioning or shut vents so that dust doesn’t come indoors.
  • If the storm is severe, take shelter in a room without windows. It’s important to stay away from windows because the wind can pick up rocks, tree limbs or other items that may shatter windows and cause injury.

Many times, a dust storm will cause power lines to go down and in some cases will cause a power outage. Never touch downed power lines or try to move them. It’s safest to call Arizona Public Service or Salt River Project, or the local police department, to handle dangerous situations. For your own safety, it’s also wise to keep a well-stocked first aid kit in your car and in your home. And make sure that you have plenty of bottled water on hand too. Justincasearizona.com offers tips for stocking emergency preparedness supplies, and creating an emergency plan to help keep you and your family safe during disasters, including haboobs.

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Brendan

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