Hubbub about Haboobs

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What the heck is a haboob? I grew up in the Valley and endured dozens of duststorms and never heard the word until recently. This incorrect description of a sandstorm has apparently made it's way into weather-speak about Arizona.

This past weekend, we had an early-season duststorm roll across the Valley. Drivers were faced with a wall of brown dust and high winds. If you caught a glimpse of this storm, surely you were impressed. However, it was not a haboob. Just a plain old dust storm.

Royal Norman, the Chief Meteorologist here at Arizona's Family, has declared 3TV a "no haboob zone." Any producer, reporter or forecaster who utters the term will surely hear from him. And I can understand his frustration at hearing about haboobs.

The American Meteorological Society's Glossary of Meteorology defines a haboob as a strong wind or duststorm in Northern and Central Sudan, especially around Khartoum. The word comes from the Arabic word "habb," which means wind.

The word "monsoon" also comes from an Arabic word, "mausim," meaning a season. It describes our seasonal shift in wind direction, which in our case brings a flow of moisture and the resulting summer thunderstorms into the state. In the AMS Glossary it states that monsoon originally applied to winds over the Arabian Sea, but has been extended to similar winds in other parts of the world, including the European monsoon, the Asian monsoon and the U.S. Southwestern monsoon.

It does not say that haboobs occur anywhere outside of Sudan. Which is why Royal points out that the National Weather Service in Phoenix issues dust storm warnings, not haboob warnings.