Written by Gerard West for YourWeatherWatcher.com on 2018 Mar 07
If you’ve ever visited or lived in an arid region, you may have experienced fear in the face of a swarming wall of deadly dust billowing over the plains. But how do dust storms form, and why do they happen?
WHAT IS A DUST STORM?
When a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface, a dust storm is possible. These fine particles can be suspended in the air and may collect into massive dust clouds. The airborne dust travels across land, sometimes over great distances, to be deposited in another location.
Dust storms are also referred to as sandstorms. In desert regions where sand predominates over dirt, the fine particles of sand are transported great distances. Sand particles are larger than typical dust particles, so sandstorms can often be much harsher and abrasive than dust storms.
Dust storms or sandstorms are most prevalent during drought conditions, as the loose dirt or sand particles are drier and more easily lifted from the ground. Depending on pressure gradients, the stability of the above-ground atmosphere, and the weight of the particles, dust storms can sometimes reach heights of 20,000 feet.
THE DANGEROUS EFFECTS OF DUST STORMS
Dust storms cause extreme respiratory difficulties to anyone caught in their path. Dust pneumonia can occur if large amounts of dust are inhaled. If a person is subjected to long-term dust inhalation, complications such as silicosis, lung cancer, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca can occur. These conditions can lead to asphyxiation, death, and blindness respectively.
Dust storms also reduce visibility to a massive extent and can cause significant damage to farmlands. Crops may be buried, and the abrasion caused by dust and sand particles can harm young plants.
Proper farming and grazing techniques are an essential means of preventing dust storms. Methods of soil conservation can help control wind erosion and prevent these damaging storms.