NWS: Blowing dust can occur year round in AZPosted: Updated:
Arizona's monsoon-generated dust storms are hard to miss.
And when those massive haboobs roll in, most drivers heed the warning to Pull Aside - Stay Alive – pulling their cars off the roadway and turning off their lights during a dust storm.
But it's blowing dust that occurs year round and is not associated with any major storm that seems to cause the most problems in Arizona.
Ken Waters with the National Weather Service's Phoenix office has studied 12 years worth of dust storm-related accident data.
He said most blowing dust-related accidents happen during the months of April and July.
The highest number of injury and deadly accidents related to dust storms happen outside of the monsoon season.
In those cases, small, localized dust channels drift across highways – fueled by lower-speed winds not associated with any visible storms.
"But it's enough where it picks up the dust and causes these surprise reductions in visibility," said Waters.
It might only last 20 to 30 seconds – but it's enough to cause a crash if you're driving too fast or following another vehicle too closely.
That's something the Arizona Department of Transportation wants drivers to keep in mind when they're driving through blowing dust-prone areas like the Phoenix to Tucson I-10 corridor.
"I would adjust your travel speed," advised ADOT's Dustin Krugel. "(The) speed limit may say 75 miles per hour. You might want to driver a little slower - be a little more cautious."
Krugel said other blowing dust hot spots include Interstate 8 where it meets Interstate 10, Highway 347 through Maricopa and Interstate 40 from Flagstaff to Holbrook.
Waters said the National Weather Service can give a heads up about the potential for blowing dust in a given region – but that's about it.
"Exactly where, exactly when - that's really tough to nail down," he said.
The bottom line: blowing dust can happen anywhere in Arizona – at any time.
And, in many cases, there may be little to no warning.
There are blowing dust warning signs along highways across the state.
But Krugel said they're not activated until there's been a report of an occurrence – and, oftentimes, that means a dust-related accident has already happened.
He said ADOT is currently testing a sensor system in southeastern Arizona that detects changes in weather conditions, including blowing dust, and sends automatic alerts to freeway warning signs.
If they work, that pilot program might be expanded to Arizona's more heavily traveled highways.
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