Arizona just got hit with their first big monsoon storm Monday. It caused flooding, wind damage, and power outages, but the wildest part of the storm may have been the massive dust storm known as a haboob.
It was a 100-foot wall of desert dust, moving more than 40 miles per hour, enveloping homes and cars in darkness. The giant dust storm was caused by severe thunderstorms in Arizona on Monday, and another round of storms Tuesday created another haboob.
These thunderstorms are no different, or no more powerful than summer thunderstorms in Colorado, but the difference is the terrain below. Dry desert sand and dirt covers large areas in Arizona, and with little vegetation to hold it in place, it can be easily lifted by thunderstorm winds.
A downburst of cold dense air collapses from mature thunderstorms and hits the ground at high speed. This creates a gust front that spreads outward in front of the storm, lifting dust off the ground. This is the haboob that can sometimes travel as fast as 60 mph.
Impressive visuals coming from Arizona Monday and Tuesday is the signal that the North American Monsoon is underway. NOAA’s precipitation outlook for the next two weeks reflects an active monsoon, that will even increase the odds of Colorado receiving above average moisture.
Monsoon moisture in Colorado can create severe weather, flash flooding due to slow-moving storms with heavy rainfall rates, and frequent cloud to ground lightning strikes. We do not get haboobs, but microbursts and gust fronts can kick up enough dust to cause very low visibility.