What is a haboob?

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Haboob Blows Over Semi-Truck

By CHRIS DOLCE, The Weather Channel

Haboobs are dust storms caused by strong winds flowing downward and outward from thunderstorms.

All thunderstorms produce these gusty winds, so for a haboob to form, the storm needs to be in a location where the winds can pick up small particles of dirt or sand in a dry desert area.

According to severe weather expert Dr. Greg Forbes of The Weather Channel, upward motion on the leading edge of the gusty winds and turbulent motions within the strong winds stirs up the dust into a layer several thousand feet thick. This then creates images of huge walls of dust in the southwestern United States, particularly Arizona.

See incredible photos of Arizona haboobs:

9 PHOTOS
Arizona haboobs
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What is a haboob?
SANTAN, AZ - UNDATED: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) A storm over the Santan mountins is seen from the same location of as the now famous haboob video in Santan, Arizona. Self-confessed storm chaser and photographer Scott Wood, 43, is fascinated by extreme weather. Setting up his camera at the Paseo Vista recreation area in Chandler, near Phoenix, Arizona, Scott captured the oncoming dust cloud with incredible clarity. 'The southeast valley of the Phoenix area is very flat, but this recreation area was built up to be something of a hill, it gives great 360 degree views,' Scott explained. 'This dust storm was amazing, there was an incredible amount of detail in the leading edge of the dust storm. Lots of peaks and valleys that created beautiful highlights and shadows being lit by the setting sun which was behind me.' The photographer, from Phoenix, said he first became interested in storm chasing, and storm when he lived in the 'tornado belt' of the US Midwest. (Photo by Scott Wood / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
FLORENCE, AZ - UNDATED: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) A rainbow, rain shower and blue sky all at once over the central Arizona desert in Florence, Arizona. Self-confessed storm chaser and photographer Scott Wood, 43, is fascinated by extreme weather. Setting up his camera at the Paseo Vista recreation area in Chandler, near Phoenix, Arizona, Scott captured the oncoming dust cloud with incredible clarity. 'The southeast valley of the Phoenix area is very flat, but this recreation area was built up to be something of a hill, it gives great 360 degree views,' Scott explained. 'This dust storm was amazing, there was an incredible amount of detail in the leading edge of the dust storm. Lots of peaks and valleys that created beautiful highlights and shadows being lit by the setting sun which was behind me.' The photographer, from Phoenix, said he first became interested in storm chasing, and storm when he lived in the 'tornado belt' of the US Midwest. (Photo by Scott Wood / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - UNDATED: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) A 'haboob' storm that came through the Phoenix metro area in Phoenix, Arizona. Self-confessed storm chaser and photographer Scott Wood, 43, is fascinated by extreme weather. Setting up his camera at the Paseo Vista recreation area in Chandler, near Phoenix, Arizona, Scott captured the oncoming dust cloud with incredible clarity. 'The southeast valley of the Phoenix area is very flat, but this recreation area was built up to be something of a hill, it gives great 360 degree views,' Scott explained. 'This dust storm was amazing, there was an incredible amount of detail in the leading edge of the dust storm. Lots of peaks and valleys that created beautiful highlights and shadows being lit by the setting sun which was behind me.' The photographer, from Phoenix, said he first became interested in storm chasing, and storm when he lived in the 'tornado belt' of the US Midwest. (Photo by Scott Wood / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
Phoenix, 5 July 2011. Looking Southeast.
A large dust storm, or haboob, sweeps across downtown Phoenix, Saturday afternoon, July 21, 2012. Dust storms are common across Arizona during the summer, and walls of dust more than a mile high can blanket an area in a matter of seconds, sometimes reducing visibility to zero..(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A large dust storm, or haboob, sweeps across downtown Phoenix, Saturday afternoon, July 21, 2012. Dust storms are common across Arizona during the summer, and walls of dust more than a mile high can blanket an area in a matter of seconds, sometimes reducing visibility to zero. (AP Photo/Mark Evans)
PARKER, AZ - UNDATED: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) A summer storm over the western Arizona desert in Parker, Arizona. Self-confessed storm chaser and photographer Scott Wood, 43, is fascinated by extreme weather. Setting up his camera at the Paseo Vista recreation area in Chandler, near Phoenix, Arizona, Scott captured the oncoming dust cloud with incredible clarity. 'The southeast valley of the Phoenix area is very flat, but this recreation area was built up to be something of a hill, it gives great 360 degree views,' Scott explained. 'This dust storm was amazing, there was an incredible amount of detail in the leading edge of the dust storm. Lots of peaks and valleys that created beautiful highlights and shadows being lit by the setting sun which was behind me.' The photographer, from Phoenix, said he first became interested in storm chasing, and storm when he lived in the 'tornado belt' of the US Midwest. (Photo by Scott Wood / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - UNDATED: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) A dust storm developing in the central Arizona desert in Phoenix, Arizona. Self-confessed storm chaser and photographer Scott Wood, 43, is fascinated by extreme weather. Setting up his camera at the Paseo Vista recreation area in Chandler, near Phoenix, Arizona, Scott captured the oncoming dust cloud with incredible clarity. 'The southeast valley of the Phoenix area is very flat, but this recreation area was built up to be something of a hill, it gives great 360 degree views,' Scott explained. 'This dust storm was amazing, there was an incredible amount of detail in the leading edge of the dust storm. Lots of peaks and valleys that created beautiful highlights and shadows being lit by the setting sun which was behind me.' The photographer, from Phoenix, said he first became interested in storm chasing, and storm when he lived in the 'tornado belt' of the US Midwest. (Photo by Scott Wood / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
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Haboobs are a big danger for motorists. Visibility can be reduced to near zero in a matter of seconds, resulting in the potential for deadly highway accidents. The strong thunderstorm winds that cause haboobs can also cause tree damage and knock out power.

Due to the hazards produced by haboobs, the National Weather Service issues dust storm advisories and dust storm warnings to warn the public when one is in progress.

The National Weather Service recommends that you pull off to the side of the road immediately if you encounter a dust storm. After doing so, place your vehicle in PARK, turn headlights and taillights off, and take your foot off the brake. This is because other vehicles may try to follow taillights in a dust storm to get through it, causing them to potentially crash into your vehicle from behind.

The word haboob comes from parts of the world where dust storms are common: the Middle East and northern Africa. According to the American Meteorological Society glossary, the term is derived from the Arabic word habb, which means wind.

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