Near Clovis, Photo by Jessica-Marie Barriere
 
 

Dust Storms

While downburst winds often do produce local, short-lived areas of blowing dust, larger convective clusters can result in wind spread areas of blowing dust, at times persisting for 30 to 60 minutes. The photos below are from El Paso (left) and Santa Teresa (right) and are examples of more extreme dust storms in southern New Mexico.

photo of dust photo of dust storm
El Paso, Photo by Charlotte Rogash

Santa Teresa, Photo by Charlotte Rogash

The most extreme cases of dust storms in New Mexico occur in the extreme southern portions of the state, and are referred to as "haboobs." A haboob is an extreme dust storm that can persist for 1 to 3 hours. The onset of the dust is extreme - it is virtually a wall of dust, as shown in the photos below from near Columbus, NM (left) and El Paso, TX (right).

 
Near Columbus, Photo by Len Zgonina

Near El Paso, Photo by NWS EPZ

   
Portales Haboob June 5, 2013
Near Portales, Photo by Norma Garcia.  June 5, 2013
Albuqueruqe, Photo by NWS ABQ. June 7, 2013
 
  Downburst Wind Safety:
  • Unlike other parts of the country, thunderstorm wind gusts here in New Mexico often exceed 40 MPH. The strongest downburst wind gusts can exceed 100 MPH, and can produce damage similar to a tornado! Anytime a thunderstorm approaches, no matter how weak it seems, move indoors to avoid flying debris. Winds rushing down from a thunderstorm can develop very quickly.
  • When a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect, it means damaging wind gusts of 58 MPH or higher are likely. Move into a central interior room. Stay away from windows.
  • Unanchored mobile homes are NOT safe in any severe thunderstorms, and even anchored mobile homes can be heavily damaged in winds over 80 MPH. Move to a more sturdy structure.
  • Stay away from trees. The vast majority of people are killed or injured in severe thunderstorms when trees fall on them, from flying debris, or from downed power lines.
  • Never touch a downed power line, even if it appears dead. Assume that it is live. Call for help instead.
  • Downburst winds can travel dozens of miles away from the thunderstorm that produced them. If the wind suddenly shifts and blows toward you from an approaching storm, while the temperature either becomes much colder or much hotter, the winds are likely to become even stronger. Move indoors!
  • Before the monsoon season, it is a good idea to either secure loose outdoor furniture and garbage cans, or move them indoors. These are frequently blown around in our summer thunderstorms - even the weakest ones.

Dust Storm Safety:

  • Straight lines winds in any thunderstorm can lift huge clouds of dust and reduce visibilities to near zero in seconds, which can quickly result in deadly, multi-vehicle accidents on roadways.
  • Dust storms are more common in the early part of the Monsoon, near agricultural areas, and around Gallup on Interstate 25 in McKinley county. Use caution in these areas any time thunderstorms are nearby.
  • If you encounter a dust storm, pull off the road immediately. Turn off your headlights and taillights, put your vehicle in "PARK," and take your foot off the brake. Other motorists may tend to follow taillights in an attempt to get through the dust storm, and may strike your vehicle from behind.
  • Dust storms in the northern portion of New Mexico usually last a few minutes, and up to an hour at most. 
  •  Across extreme southern New Mexico, haboobs can persist for 1 to 2 hours resulting in extremely hazardous driving conditions. In either case, stay where you are until the dust storm passes.
 

Storm Data has listed 816 thunderstorm wind events as either dry or wet microbursts since 1990. There are likely many other thunderstorm wind events that could be classified as microbursts or macrobursts. Destructive winds up to 70 mph were recently reported near Dora and Floyd on June 7, 2013.

On a somewhat larger scale, on August 4, 1998, a line of thunderstorms moving off the San Andres Range produced a macroburst with winds that measured 112 mph at the White Sands Missile Range. The anemometer at Holloman AFB recorded speeds of 75 mph before breaking! The core of strongest winds moved over uninhabited military land, but considerable tree damage and some structural damage occurred well to the east near Alamogordo in Bolles Acres. It was also reported that a vehicle was blown sideways for two blocks.

Storm Data also lists a number of dusts storms since 1990. A dust storm in Lordsburg on the 4th of July, 1974 injured 13 people!

 

 Downbursts are particularly strong downdrafts from thunderstorms. Downbursts in air that is precipitation free or contains virga are known as dry downbursts; those accompanied with precipitation are known as wet downbursts. Most downbursts are less than 2.5 miles in extent: these are called microbursts. Downbursts larger than 2.5 miles in extent are sometimes called macrobursts. Downbursts can occur over large areas. In the extreme case, a derecho (a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms in the form of a squall line) can cover a huge area more than 200 miles wide and over 1000 miles long, lasting up to 12 hours or more, and is associated with some of the most intense straight-line winds, but the generative process is somewhat different from that of most downbursts.


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