Is every dust storm a haboob?

Is every dust storm a haboob?
Published: Mar. 15, 2014 at 1:50 AM CDT
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Photo submitted by dmears
Photo submitted by dmears

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Something turned the sky over Lubbock brown Tuesday night, but was it a dust storm, a haboob or just a massive wall of dirt?

Is there really any difference between the terms?

"Going back more technically in meteorological literature, haboob is the correct term," said Jody James.

James is the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lubbock.

"Sometimes people more informally may refer to it as a sandstorm or a dust storm," James said.

"A couple of things have to come together to get the kind of dust storm we call a haboob," James said. "You need really strong winds, which we get a lot out here, and we need an atmosphere that has some really cold air that hugs the ground and sort of stays together - kind of a density current like pouring milk on the table. You get that little edge and it rolls along."

The dictionary definitions of the words are pretty similar:

Haboob: "A violent and oppressive wind blowing in summer, esp. in Sudan, bringing sand from the desert."

Sandstorm: "A windstorm especially in a desert, that blows along great clouds of sand."

Dust storm: "A storm of strong winds and dust-filled air over an extensive area during a period of drought over normally arable land."

But is every dusty day in the Hub City caused by a haboob?

"The differentiation between a haboob and just those days when we get blowing dust everywhere and the whole sky turns brown has to do with more of that wall of dust coming in," James said.

"There's really two primary ways that happens. You can get those from thunderstorm outflow - cool air that hangs on the ground moving out, away from thunderstorms... The other way is like we had yesterday, just along the cold front, which sort of act the same way. You get cold, dense air that not only hugs the ground, but picks up dust several thousand feet in the air."

James says meteorologists have used the word haboob since at least the 1950s. He says with normal rainfall they would not be frequent, but dry conditions have helped to frequently turn our skies brown.

"It is a word of Arabic origin but we have a lot of words like that, like algebra. Cotton is actually an Arabic word so whether we know it or not we have a lot of Arabic words in our lexicon," James said.

Some other words of Arabic origin include lemon, candy, alcohol, sofa and spinach.

SLIDESHOW: Tuesday night dust storm 3/11

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