Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Desert storms

Imagine looking over the horizon and seeing a wall of sand moving toward you.

It towers over even the tallest structure in your city. In a matter of minutes, everything around you turns pitch black. The wind is howling. It is hard to breathe as the sand pelts your face. It is hard to see as the dust stings your eyes.

It is not a Hollywood movie. It is a little-talked about phenomena called the haboob.

Haboob is an Arabic word that means "strong wind." They are common in desert areas around the world, from the Sahara to the Middle East and the Southwestern United States.

Usually you can see them coming…On average, that wall of sand can reach heights of 7,000 feet -- that is 2km high!

But because they move at forward speeds of more than 50 km/hr (30 mph) and quickly engulf everything, many are caught by surprise.

Haboobs are the byproduct of strong thunderstorms that form over or close to desert areas.

During a thunderstorm air is forced up through the cloud and then forced down again toward the ground. It is that quick downward movement of the air that forms the haboob.

The relatively cooler air slams down to ground blowing the loose sand up hundreds of feet into the air and away from the thunderstorm.

As the thunderstorm advances, the column of dust is pushed further up into the air resembling a wall of fast-moving dust.

Haboobs are just one type of dust storm.

There are also “shamals” which form by currents of air funneled over the desert regions.

And frontal dust storms which are caused by being pushed by a cold front ...

To see an animation of how a haboob forms click here:

To see the real thing click here:
Send us an iReport

You can learn more about haboobs and other sandstorms in an upcoming Weather FX on weather phenomenon. Stay tuned!

-- From Mari Ramos CNN World Weather

-- CNN Meteorologist/Producer Brandon Miller contributed to this report
The CNNI Weather Team is on call every hour of every day to make sure viewers have the weather information they need. Weather FX goes beyond the average weather segment for an in-depth look at what causes weather phenomena around the world. From hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons to devastating droughts and sandstorms, weather affects all of our lives. Weather FX is an exchange of ideas involving the viewer through iReports and Q&As with viewers. Join the CNN Weather Team as they show you how the world is connected by the effects of weather.
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