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Scientists stunned after incredible 'haboob' event captured by satellite imagery: 'Largest ... I've observed in 20 years'

The dust was visible on satellite imagery as far west as Arizona.

The dust was visible on satellite imagery as far west as Arizona.

Photo Credit: iStock

A massive dust storm that impacted two states in the desert southwest surprised even seasoned scientists who have observed "haboobs" for decades.

What's happening?

Scientists marveled at the immense "haboob" that was captured on satellite imagery in late June. The American Meteorological Society's Glossary of Meteorology defines a haboob as "an intense sandstorm or duststorm caused by strong winds, with sand and/or dust often lofted to heights as high as 1,500 meters (around 5,000 feet), resulting in a 'wall of dust' along the leading edge of the haboob that can be visually stunning."

Tom Gill, an environmental scientist at the University of Texas at El Paso, said: "Largest haboob I've observed in 20 years or perhaps longer," on X, formerly known as Twitter, per The Washington Post.

The dust storm whipped up during a wild week of weather in New Mexico. Wildfires charred more than 20,000 acres, leaving "burn scars," or land that was burned and stripped of vegetation. These charred areas don't absorb water, making the environment vulnerable to flash flooding.

In just 30 minutes, nearly 2.5 inches of rain came down in a deluge in Ruidoso, New Mexico, prompting the National Weather Service to declare a flash flood emergency.

Air flowing out at the base of thunderstorms that produced locally heavy rain kicked up massive amounts of dust and swept it along a path more than 200 miles long in northern Mexico and portions of New Mexico. The dust was visible on satellite imagery as far west as Arizona, making Phoenix's skies hazy.

Why are large dust storms important?

Dust storms are more than just a nuisance. The dust storm that hit New Mexico in June turned deadly as it lowered visibility north of Albuquerque, leading to a multi-vehicle crash near Algodones that killed two people.

The United Nations Environment Programme says climate change "is amplifying" factors contributing to an increase in dust storms, such as deforestation, overgrazing, and the overuse of water.

The United Nations warns that dust storms are increasing in frequency as heat-trapping gases warm our world. Scientists estimate that 2 billion tons of sand and dust enter Earth's atmosphere each year, and they attribute more than 25% of the problem to human activities. Climate change exacerbates the problem.

What's being done about increasing dust storms?

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification recommends improved soil and water management practices to protect vulnerable soils and increase vegetation cover.

There are things we can all do to reduce the heat-trapping gases released into the air that compound the problem.  An impactful place to start is changing how we use gas, water, and electricity. Reducing the water we waste each day can save nearly 6,000 gallons over a year.

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