High Plains Haboob Blows Across Five States

By Tom Yulsman | March 13, 2014 7:45 pm
High Plains Haboob blows

NASA’s Terra satellite spied these streams of dust blowing south across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico on March 11, 2014. (Source: NASA)

As a cold front blew across parts of the High Plains on Tuesday, winds kicked up a huge and intense dust storm. You can see it in the image above, captured by NASA’s Terra satellite.

The dust is streaming south out of Colorado and Kansas into Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. (Look for the streamers of pale, sand-colored stuff south of the big cloud bank.)

With winds gusting to nearly 60 miles per hour, visibility in southwestern Kansas was reduced to zero, according to the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. CIMSS also describes a pilot report of severe turbulence at 45,000 feet in the region, possibly the result of the passing cold front.

On the ground, a towering wall of dust known as a haboob rushed across a vast swath of the High Plains, enveloping towns and cities in a brown pall.

The photo above, posted to Twitter, was taken from an airplane flying near Amarillo, Texas, apparently at 38,000 feet. And here’s the High Plains haboob enveloping Clovis, New Mexico:

The winds associated with the south-moving cold front are simulated in dramatic fashion in this screenshot from an earth.nullschool.net visualization:

High Plains Haboob

Surface winds associated with the cold front blast to the south across a large part of the U.S. midsection on March 11, as seen in this visualization based on data from supercomputer forecast models. (Source: earth.nullschool.net)

The cold front winds were the proximate cause of the dust storm. But there was more to it than that.

High Plains Haboob

This is the U.S. Drought Monitor map issued on Tuesday, March 11 — the very day of the High Plains haboob. Take a look at southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, northeast New Mexico, and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. This entire region is categorized as being in severe to exceptional drought.

As the latest drought monitor indicated:

Over the past 60 days, precipitation totaled 3 to 6 inches less than normal across central and east Oklahoma, southeast Kansas, north and west Arkansas, and south Missouri. Both 60- and 90-day amounts are only half of normal at best across the south-central Plains approaching the Red River Valley and Texas.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Drought, Environment, select, Top Posts, Weather
  • ozonator

    Good article. Deniers do have a problem with such facts.

    • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

      Deniers? As in global warming deniers? This article didn’t even mention global warming that I can tell (correct me if i’m wrong). It was an article about a weather event, not climate.

      • Tom Yulsman

        That’s right, I said nothing about global warming. It was a weather event.

        That said, the drought gripping the region is a climatic phenomenon. Is it connected to climate change? To get an answer, scientists would have to do a formal “attribution study.” That’s an extremely complicated undertaking, and as far as I know it has not been done in this case.

        An attribution study was conducted for the profound Central Great Plains drought of 2012, which affected a similar area. Among its conclusions was this:

        “Neither ocean states nor human-induced climate change, factors that can provide long-lead predictability, appeared to play significant roles in causing severe rainfall deficits over the major corn producing regions of central Great Plains.”

        You can find a summary of the study here: http://drought.gov/drought/content/drought-task-force-report-page

        We also know that natural variability has long been the cause of periodic drought in this region. The rainfall deficit that contributed to the Dust Bowl is a prime example.

        Another question to be asked is whether drought frequency and intensity have been increasing in the United States. A 2008 report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program on extremes in North America found this:

        “Similarly, long-term trends (1925-2003) of hydrologic droughts based on model derived soil moisture and runoff show that droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century (Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006). The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where increased temperature has led to rising drought trends (Groisman et al., 2004; Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006).”

        Lastly, there’s the question of what we might expect moving forward. Projections suggest that dry areas, such as the West — where I live — will tend to get drier. But this region tends to be prone to drought anyway, as California’s current experience shows. And that means there is much work to be done right now in adapting to what we know will continue to happen, regardless of changes to climate that will take place over the course of many decades.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          Well written. After the first paragraph I was all set to point out the periodic drought cycles that the plains and parts of the southwest have suffered over the years. My understanding is that there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that the dust bowl wasn’t even one of the most extreme events that region has suffered over the past two thousand years or so.

          Tom, you always do a phenomenal job of presenting facts and showing the path you took to reach your conclusion (even if reasoning minds sometimes disagree). Keep up the excellent work.

  • Guest

    For that reason, there’d come to be plenty of people call for of the fact that replica devices amount for that reason almost nothing. For the, you can certainly figure out in which is the reason why all the designs can be widely recognized just by along with other.

    • Frustrated

      This post makes absolutely no sense.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    A haboob boosts automobile air filter sales, saving America. The entire volume of the Great Lakes is cooled to at least 4 C, with nearly 100% ice cover to as much as 60 cm thick. Spring will be late, summer will be cooled. Dense surface air will divert low pressure fronts and local precipitation. Not to worry! This is only weather. Anthropogenic Global Warming will incinerate the Earth while paradoxically drowning it (e.g., Europe). Pay your Carbon Tax on Everything.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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