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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Holy Haboobs, Batman!

Is it a comet storm?

photo by Camille Kimball

I'm asked what is a "haboob?" Well, it's a massive thing that escapes from a Hollywood special effects lot and engulfs your city. Above is a photo of the weird pattern it left on my car.

Where does the word come from? It's apparently an Arab word and why wouldn't it be? Haboobs occur most commonly along the southern edges of the Sahara. It is described as a "dense wall of dust that can reach a height of 3,000 feet." The root of the word, "habb," seems to mean "wind" in Arabic. Don't quote me.

In Arizona, we have large stretches of dry, dry earth and flat land. It's a Sonoran desert, but it's desert enough for haboobs. We just had a record breaking one. Ours was taller than a mile, which is 5,280 feet, that's nearly twice the height usually considered the haboob's upper limit. Ours was 50 miles long, too.

It closed down Sky Harbor airport. Videos of planes emerging from the edge of the haboob then urgently aiming for higher altitudes at steep angles are breathtaking. It seems a miracle disaster never happened. That speaks to the skill of our commercial pilots, it must have been a terrifying time, being engulfed by the haboob while in the cockpit of a jet and unable to land.

Here on earth, I was not in danger. Peeking out the window in the middle of the haboob was to feel inside a snow globe, but the color of the haze was brown instead of white. Walking outside into it one felt thick moisture dispersed evenly with the dust. Light glowed in a sort of phantasmagoria effect, Rod Serling might step out at any moment. The wind buffeted everything in sight, blowing branches off and scattering debris. The dust from the haboob turned crystal clear swimming pools into mud. One coughed and choked all night as the dust infiltrated the house. A thick layer of it, the texture of finely ground grain, was found everywhere in the morning, including the keyboard of a closed laptop. This ain't your gramma's white glove dust!

There are many fine videos and stills of the recent Phoenix haboob all over the net. Here's an ASU professor talking about it. http://vimeo.com/26046268

I also recommend the Arizona Highways website, the Arizona Republic and any of the Phoenix area TV stations (KPNX, KSAZ, KNXV, KTVK and KPHO) for the best images.

While I was in the haboob, I kept expecting this face to appear. I was looking for him! This is the mummy from The Mummy (1999 Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weiss, Arnold Vosloo as the mummy). I enjoyed that movie very much, I did not know I was going to live it!

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