As yet another dust storm swept over Arizona yesterday, a dozen grit-lost automobiles met on an interstate in an ear-shattering mass collision. They then sat there smoking for hours with emergency officials on hold until the air stopped resembling the inside of a vacuum bag.
Haboobs are a regular feature of the Southwest Monsoon, a time of summer when high pressure gathering in the east Pacific Ocean directs waves of moist sea air northward. This year's crop is a bit rowdier than usual, though. Stretching up to nearly a mile in some cases, they are arriving with regularity: Two alone have struck in the past four days.
Yesterday's was the fourth really big dust storm in Arizona this summer. It's not uncommon for a handful to occur during an average year, but what is uncommon, as at least one meteorologist has noted, is the power of 2011's haboobs. They have knocked down power poles and P.O.'d countless car buffs by painting their rides with desert dirt. Chalk up the dustiness of these particular haboobs to abnormally dry conditions in Arizona – the rainfall around Phoenix since last October is more than three-and-a-half inches below average.
Want to know what to do when a haboob comes gusting at you?
To believe this video (which two commenters have said is probably from earlier this year), you're supposed to run outside and water the dirt surrounding your home. Presumably this prevents it from lifting off and joining its dirt friends partying it up inside the cloud. And what a party! This dust storm is fabulous in pink:
Here is an interesting view of yesterday's haboobs. It shows two dust storms apparently at loggerheads: