Your eyes are not deceiving you. A haboob is an actual meteorological phenomena that occurs during the monsoon season across the southwestern United States. Haboobs are characterized by a wall of blowing dust and dirt that typically form from the outflow of a strong shower or thunderstorm. Similar to a dust storm, haboobs can cause a rapid drop in visibility down to near 0 miles in a matter of a few minutes or even less.
The word "Haboob" originated in Sudan where intense dust storms occur over the Saharan Dessert and other arid regions nearby and are more common than in any other part of the world. Haboobs can grow to be up to around 10,000 feet high as they propagate from a thunderstorm and typically only last about 10-30 minutes. Some of the stronger haboobs can last up to a few hours and travel over 100 miles. Given such durations and heights, haboobs can make for some spectacular photo opportunities, but they can also be quite dangerous if motorists and anyone outside gets caught in one.
In the United States, haboobs are most common during the summer months of July and August when the Southwest monsoon kicks into gear. The months of dry weather from the springtime create a ripe environment for monsoon thunderstorms to stir up dust, sand and other tiny particles during the summer. Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas are the most common areas in the U.S. to experience such intense dust storms during a given year. Major cities such as Phoenix, Ariz., typically have about 1-3 haboobs per year, and across that state the National Climate Data Center has recorded more than 100 dust storms over a 10-year period.
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