If you’re considering buying land or relocating to Texas, prepare yourself for the dust storms.
At first, you may think, “What, a little flying sand? What’s so bad about that?”
But anyone who lives through dust storms each year will tell you that this universally despised weather phenomenon is a pain in the neck.
Recently, in March 2021, Lubbock, Texas was hit with a dust storm with 70 mph winds.
Let’s dive deeper into this phenomenon, why it occurs, and how you can properly prepare for them.
1. What is a dust storm?
A dust storm is a wall of dust and debris that is blown into an area by strong winds (typically from thunderstorms).
While these events can occur across Texas, they are most prevalent in the High Plains in the late winter or early spring.
A wall of dust is created, and it can be miles long and several thousand feet high.
2. What’s the difference between a dust storm, haboob, and sandstorm?
Depending on where you live, you may have heard a dust storm called a “haboob” or “sandstorm.”
Are they the same thing?
While the three are similar in appearance and effect, there are some key differences between them.
For one, the particles in a dust storm are smaller in size than particles in a sandstorm.
This means that they can be launched higher and farther.
A haboob is known to be larger in both scale and duration.
It has thicker dust, which can stretch up to 5,000 feet into the atmosphere.
Still, the three share the fact that they can cause issues in visibility, human health, and air quality.
3. How long can dust storms last?
How long a dust storm lasts often has to do with where it is located.
For instance, in the Middle East, they can occur for up to five days.
This is due to the Persian Gulf and the African sirocco winds.
4. How do you prepare?
Here are some steps that will help you prepare and stay safe during a dust storm.
Step 1: Create a dust storm survival kit
For any natural disaster, having an emergency kit on hand is generally helpful.
You can store these items in either a small box, bag, or backpack.
The most important things to have on hand during a dust storm are freshwater, food, clean air, and warmth.
Additionally, breathing protections should be on the list as well.
Here’s a list of everything you’ll need to create a survival kit.
- A facemask or dense cotton fabric that will help protect your breathing
- Airtight goggles to prevent dust from getting in your eyes
- Non-perishable food
- Filled water bottles (3 gallons per person)
- First aid kit
- A blanket or heavy clothes
- Self-powered weather radio
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- A list of items to collect from your home (i.e., prescription medications, important papers, etc.)
Step 2: Place your survival kit in an easily accessible location
Place the emergency kit in an area that you can get to quickly during a storm warning or when the storm hits.
This may be the basement, pantry, or garage.
You shouldn’t need to move your kit to have access to it when you’re taking shelter.
Step 3: Check your home to ensure it is well sealed
A dust storm can invade your home and make it difficult for you to breathe.
To ensure you’re as safe as you can be, check your doors and windows to ensure they’re properly sealed.
Additionally, know how to block off all your vents if a dust storm is on its way.
These could be both under-house vents as well as air-intake vents for your HVAC system.
Step 4: Get storm updates
Be sure you know where warnings will come from for dust storms in your area.
This could be through local TV or radio stations as well as the internet.
That said, keep in mind that there won’t always be storm updates, and there can be dust storms in Texas without any warning.
This is why it’s important to be prepared for storms at a moment’s notice.
Step 5: Heed warnings
When a dust storm is developing and you either see it in the area or you receive a warning, take it seriously.
It’s important that you get your family inside and take shelter with your emergency supplies.
If you don’t have time to make it home, find the closest building to you.
Make sure that your pets also come inside when a dust storm is approaching.
If animals are too big to come inside a house, usher them inside a barn or other shelter to protect them.
5. How many dust storms occur in Texas each year?
The number of dust storms in Texas varies from year to year, but there can be anywhere from about 5 to 25 annually.
6. Where else do dust storms happen?
Dust storms are not exclusive to Texas, they happen all over the world.
In fact, most of the world’s dust storms occur in the Middle East and North Africa.
However, the Southwest of the United States gets its fair share of these events, especially during the springtime.
On any given day, scientists estimate that about 44 billion pounds of dust are in Earth’s atmosphere at one time. Wow!
7. What causes a dust storm?
Dust storms are prompted by strong winds, and these strong winds often originate from thunderstorms.
That said, dry regions can pull dust up from the ground and create an event as well.
Depending on an area’s geography and plant life, it may be more prone to dust storms.
Texas, for instance, is flat and has fewer trees and plants compared to other regions.
This allows wind to build up momentum and grow stronger, which drives dust into the atmosphere.
8. Why are dust storms an issue in Texas?
Dust storms can last between minutes or hours.
However, the dust itself doesn’t automatically dissipate.
It can hang in the air and cause lingering effects for days (or months) afterward.
Here’s what you should be aware of:
The initial wall of dust and debris can arrive suddenly, which catches people by surprise.
Dust storms can make it difficult to see when you’re driving, which can cause car accidents.
They can cause issues for airplanes by reducing visibility for pilots or prompting mechanical problems for the plane.
As a result, delays and cancellations are common if a dust storm is anticipated.
Breathing in the dusty air during a dust storm can cause health problems (especially for those with asthma) and lingering dust can impact air quality for days/months following.
9. Is there a warning for dust storms in Texas?
Your local National Weather Service forecast office will issue a dust storm warning if one is spotted in your area.
Scientists will use weather satellites to catch the first signs of a dust storm, and this helps forecasters to alert the public as soon as possible.
If there is no advanced warning, you’ll likely still know that one is coming.
It is difficult to miss dust storms on the ground, even if they’re difficult to spot from space (because they blend in with their surroundings).
GOES-R Series Satellites have an instrument that can spot dust storms.
The instrument is like a camera that takes pictures with different filters, and this allows for earlier warnings.
10. Why is there Saharan dust in Texas?
Each year, the trade winds near the Earth’s equator blow dust from the Saharan desert out over the Atlantic Ocean.
This typically occurs from June through September.
The dust is lifted high into the atmosphere and creates a faint, orange-brownish haze in the sky.
While this isn’t exactly a dust storm as the particles are incredibly fine, there are still irritating and create noticeable effects to those in San Antonio, Texas, where the dust arrives.
Here’s what you should know if you live in this area.
You may experience allergy-like symptoms
If you have existing respiratory issues, the air may become unhealthy for you
Some days may be worse than others as Texas experiences a variation in the dust
When there’s quite a bit of dust, you’ll actually see the orange-brownish haze on the horizon during the day
Bonus: While it can impact your health and inconvenience you, the dust can create photogenic sunsets
11. What is the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl is the historical name for a series of dust storms that devastated the southern plains during the 1930s.
In this area, farmland doubled between 1900 and 1920, and tripled by 1930.
The expansion of the farmland required heavy use of mechanized farm equipment and extensive deep plowing of the land’s topsoil.
This devastated the grasses that would trap soil and moisture during periods of drought and high winds.
When the drought began in Texas in the early 30s, winds began to whip up unanchored soil from the great plains into suffocating “black blizzards.”
On April 14, 1935, later known as Black Sunday, 20 of the worst dust storms were produced from Canada to Texas.
Some of the impacted cities included Dalhart, Pampa, Spearman, and Amarillo.
These dusters eroded millions of acres of farmland, destroyed Texas homes, and caused severe physical and mental health problems.
One of the larger problems was that the Dust Bowl exacerbated the effects of the Great Depression.
Many Texans were left homeless as they abandoned their dust-ridden farms and migrated to California looking for better opportunities.
The Dust Bowl sparked the largest American migration in the shortest amount of time.
It also led to the creation of several programs, such as the Soil Erosion Service (or Soil Conservation Service) and Prairie States Forestry Project, designed to put people to work planting trees.
12. What is the impact of dust storms on human health?
The most common symptoms of dust storms include the following:
Itchy or burning eyes
Coughing and sneezing
Respiratory or breathing difficulties (including asthma attacks)
Airborne dust is dangerous for human health.
The key determinant of the potential hazard to human health is dust particle size.
Particles larger than 10 μm are not breathable.
This means they can damage external organs and cause skin and eye irritations.
However, inhalable particles, those smaller than 10 μm, can get trapped inside the nose, mouth, and upper respiratory tract.
These are the ones associated with respiratory disorders like asthma, tracheitis, pneumonia, allergic rhinitis, and silicosis.
13. Who is most affected by dust storms?
Anyone’s health can be impacted by dust storms.
However, the following groups of people are at the greatest risk.
People with heart and lung conditions (including asthma and hay fever)
Infants, children, and adolescents
People over 65 years of age
Those are the broader points of what you need to know about dust storms in Texas.
These events are commonplace in this region, especially between June and September.
It’s important to be prepared for dust storms if you’re purchasing land in the area or simply relocating to a house there.
We suggest that you prepare an emergency kit just in case there’s a serious dust storm in your area.
While there aren’t always alerts and warnings ahead of a storm, it’s important to keep an eye out for local broadcasts.
This way, you can head inside and stay off the roads.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.