Borrego Sun - Since 1949

A Strange New Sighting

Haboobs are Here in Borrego


Last updated 11/9/2023 at 12:07pm

Haboob means “blasting/drifting” in Arabic. It is a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric/gravity current known as a weather front. Haboobs occur regularly in dry land area regions throughout the world. And are known to occur in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

And the home of Linda and Mike Bates is apparently the best place to view haboobs visiting Borrego.

“We evidently have a perfect place to view them. My husband has recorded four haboobs; and we saw the first one two years ago,” said Linda Bates, adding, “the last one we observed was last year.”

According to Linda Bates, “The reason Mike discovered the haboobs is because he is very curious about the environment, and spends time outside, watching the open spaces around our home.”

Haboobs are the temper-tantrum-prone siblings in the dust storm family. They’re relatively small compared to the massive storms that are caused by synoptic-scale systems, but they tend to erupt out of nowhere and with dramatic fanfare. They’re common in Sudan and North America, namely the Southwest plains. And now, as explained, they’re associated with thunderstorm activity, which has increased in the Borrego Basin.

But what does a thunderstorm, which we usually associate with rain, have to do with a dust storm? Well, the connective winds that typically associate with thunderstorm activity play a big role in generating a dust storm. Many times, rain will follow a haboob, but it’s often unnoticed as the actual rainfall is usually insignificant.

When thunderstorms dissipate, gust fronts, or outflow boundaries, are formed as downdrafts hit the ground and spread out from the storm, where it begins to rain. These gust fronts, which can exceed 50 miles per hour (80.5 kilometers per hour), act as “mini-cold fronts” racing out from the dissipating storm. When the gust fronts sweep across exposed dry land, dust is kicked up into the air.

“We suspect the haboobs we have viewed generate from thunderstorms in the Salton Sea. We get the view of the dust gathering across Indian Head; it’s exciting, “Bates reported.

The airborne dust of a haboob forms into a towering, condensed thick wall, moving with the storm at about one half the speed of the gust front, typically 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) [source: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research]. However, similar to temper tantrums, these storms don’t last very long. Haboobs tend to be over within three hours and visibility improves shortly after the winds subside. Large haboobs happening in urban areas cause Power lines to be blown down and air travel to come to a halt. The whipping dust, which feels like fine sand, can cause respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma.

The most immediate dangers during a haboob are aircraft collisions and highway accidents. Visibility can be reduced to near zero in a matter of two minutes during a haboob -- if you happen to be motoring down the highway, this can be life-threatening. Pile-up collisions are a common occurrence during black blizzards.

What are black blizzards?

The Black Sunday storm of April 14, 1935, was a haboob, as were most of the storms that ravaged the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Haboobs are often called “black blizzards” or “black wind storms.” They can span 60 to 90 miles (96 to 145 kilometers) in length and reach heights of 5,000 to 8,000 feet (1.5 to 2.4 kilometers), although haboobs have been known to tower as high as 15,000 feet (4.5 kilometers).

The effects of haboobs are similar to most major dust storms, but they’re a bit more chaotic due to the rapid formation and intensity of the convective winds that are responsible for the storm. Strong winds blowing dust around decrease visibility and deposit sediment everywhere, which can seriously jam electrical equipment, machinery and even helicopters.

Perhaps, the reason the little dirt devils have grown into haboobs in the neighborhood have to do with climate changes, bringing more intense storms, even a hurricane, to the region. Haboobs, like other changes, may be a message to give climate change more serious thought and planning.

The Bates moved to Borrego Four years ago, and as Linda says, “We regret not moving here sooner.” Linda Bates wanted to give something back to the community, and when she responded to a request for dog training, her legacy was born. Linda has 30 years training dogs and winning titles, including that of AKC National. She is also a dog therapist.

The Bates belong to a Greyhound rescue group, and currently have two greyhounds and two smaller dogs. Linda Bates called it, “keeping a delicate balance.” She also found her artistic skills in Borrego and is immersed in her paintings of dogs, when not training dogs.

Linda Bates will be starting her free dog training classes in November, or earlier, weather permitting. Beginners classes are on Wednesdays at 9 a.m .; advanced classes are held at 11 a.m. Classes are held outside of the Community Resource Center, in The Mall.

For more information on the classes and where to sign up, Linda can be contacted by calling 562-818-2594.

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