ASU student working on dust storm classification, warning system

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- If you lived through the historic haboob of July 5, 2011, you remember it.

“I was driving, unfortunately,” said Josh White.

Coincidentally, White, a PhD candidate at ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, started digging into dust storm research that same year.

“At 8 o’clock when the storm hit, you can see a huge spike in numbers,” White said pointing to a chart of data from that day in 2011.

Using EPA air quality monitoring devices to measure dust and particulate levels, White is analyzing trends and hatching plans for a dust storm classification system.  The system will not only rate storms but potentially warn the Phoenix metro area before they hit.

“Not only warn, but give an idea of how intense it’s going to be,” said White. “Hopefully, they can start building up a network in Pinal County, so when they have readings like this, we know it’s coming.”

In theory, Phoenix would then have about thirty minutes to an hour to prepare and caution drivers on the roadways.

“The dust storms seem to come out of nowhere and have such an extreme impact on visibility,” said Tim Tait of ADOT. “Anything that can help us predict and foresee where those storms are going to occur, when they’re going to occur can help us protect the public.”

Tim Tait of ADOT says the suddenness of these storms makes them all the more hazardous.

“Any research to help dive deeper really helps all of us,” said Tait.

That’s the ultimate goal of Josh White, an Arizona native who has watched these dust storms grow year after year.

“Anyway I can help would be great,” said White.

White is working alongside the Maricopa County Air Quality Department for his project.