All the hubbub about haboobs, microbursts - News - Explorer

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All the hubbub about haboobs, microbursts

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Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

When power lines go down, crews work day and night during monsoon season to fix the damage.


The fascination around a haboob or a microburst is high, but the path of destruction for the natural wonders can be dangerous and expensive.

A haboob is much more serious than your typical dust devil, and can last for hours. On the other hand, a microburst may not last as long but it can become a lot more destructive.


The word haboob comes from the Arabic word habb, meaning wind. A haboob is a wall of dust as a result of a microburst or downburst. The air forced downward is pushed forward by the front of a thunderstorm cell, dragging dust and debris with it, as it travels across the terrain.

Haboobs occur mostly during the summer months in Arizona. Wind in a haboob can reach up to 30 miles per hour, and visibility, especially for drivers, can be nonexistent.

While there haven’t been as many reports of a haboob this monsoon season, last year, the massive dust storms were a regular occurrence on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix. In one case, a collision involving more than 20 cars occurred primarily due to low visibility.

With haboobs becoming more common, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) continues to encourage drivers not to take the chance, but to pull over.

Continuing last year’s successful program, Pull Aside, Stay Alive campaign, ADOT continues to educate drivers on the dangers of driving in dust storms where there is little to no visibility.

“Driving into a dust storm is dangerous, and oftentimes it can be avoided. This is a message that can’t be emphasized enough,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “During monsoon season, drivers and their passengers must do their part by planning ahead if there are threats of a dust storm. It’s better to alter travel plans than to attempt to drive through dangerous conditions. But if you’re on the road and a dust storm suddenly appears near you, pull off the highway as quickly and safely as possible. Do not drive through a dust storm. It’s a risk you don’t have to take and remember to never drive distracted.”

ADOT, along with its partnering agencies, established to showcase the public-education video and to reinforce driver safety messages. The website also includes a tip sheet, which ADOT encourages drivers to print and keep handy in their vehicle.


A microburst is a small, very intense downdraft that descends to the ground resulting in strong winds. Microbursts are capable of producing winds of more than 100 miles per hour, causing significant damage. The life span of a microburst usually lasts between five and 15 minutes.

Microbursts have become common in Tucson, with recent storms ripping through the east side, and more recently, near Picture Rocks.

Microbursts bring a variety of downed power lines, trees uprooted, broken windows, roof damage and more.

When power lines are down, local electric companies strongly recommend residents assume they are live and do not touch them.

As the monsoon season continues between June and September, officials warn that the late-afternoon storms are highly unpredictable and practicing caution in a haboob or microburst is strongly recommended.

2 images

Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

When power lines go down, crews work day and night during monsoon season to fix the damage.