Massive dust storm sweeps through Phoenix metro

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PHOENIX – People all over the Valley were cleaning up Mother Nature's mess Wednesday after a massive dust storm that’s being described as “historic” swept from one side of the Valley to the other Tuesday night.

Dust was still hovering in the air Wednesday morning, creating a haze. While the air might have looked awful, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said all of its particulate monitors were elevated but still below federal standard for health. The sole exception was in Chandler.

"There is a lot of moisture in the atmosphere. This moisture wraps around suspended particles, enhancing the appearance of the particle and making it look worse than it actually is," ADEQ explained in an e-mail to the media.

Experts said the dust storm-induced haze would likely linger through the day and possibly into tomorrow because surface winds were going to be light.

The monster monsoon dust storm started with some thunderstorm outflows in Pima County just north of Tucson. It reduced visibility to nearly nothing as it rolled northwest and over the Phoenix metro area.

The huge wall of dust was between 50 and 70 miles wide and one mile deep. The National Weather Service clocked wind gusts at more than 60 mph, which is nearly the strength of a Category 1 hurricane. The storm moved quite fast, whipping across the Valley at about 35 mph.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said 3TV meteorologist April Warnecke. Longtime Phoenix residents agreed.

The storm virtually swallowed the city and made visibility so bad, it forced the Federal Aviation Administration to stop flights into and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Operations resumed at about 9 p.m.

The high winds took down some power lines, resulting in outages all over the metro area. At the storm’s peak, some 20,000 customers were in the dark. SRP and APS called in their crews and were able to get most of those people back online relatively quickly. By 7 a.m., about 200 people South Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and Apache Junction were still without electricity Wednesday morning. The utilities expected to have those people back up and running some time in the morning.

According to Forrest Smith of the Mesa Fire Department, the storm generated 32 emergency calls in the East Valley over a two-hour period. Most of those called involved lines down and alarm activations.

The intense winds also took down trees and knocked over signs throughout the city, but for the most part, the bulk of the damage appeared to be relatively minor.

One of the most visible signs of the storm’s aftermath was all the cars caked with dust.

According to The Associated Press, the normally white roof over Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the venue for next week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, is also coated with thick, brown dust.

Warnecke said tonight will bring another chance of thunderstorms, including the potential for more blowing dust.