It was the late 1990s when a local TV meteorologist started using the term “haboob” to describe our dust storms. And even before the era of social media, the term caught fire and soon you could read about haboobs in local newspapers and magazines.
The term is now firmly part of the weather lexicon in the desert southwest. That’s fine. Language is always changing and growing. However, it didn’t all start with that TV weather person.
The first use of the term “haboob” in America goes back to January of 1931. In the “Monthly Weather Review” there’s an article about the previous year when a huge dust storm hit Big Spring, Texas. The author points out the picture bears a resemblance to pictures from 1925 of haboobs in the Sudan. We've included a side by side picture for comparison.
Fast forward to July 16th of 1971 and Dr. Sherwood Idso, who worked at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, got on his roof in Tempe and spotted a huge dust storm rolling into the Valley.
The dust wall soared 8000 feet into the sky and the dust storm lasted for nearly an hour. Idso documented it with many photographs and weather readings. Later that year, in October, he wrote in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society of “An American Haboob.”
Another magazine, Weatherwise, also picked it up at the time, but that was it.
From there, "haboob" sat dormant, like a seed that would not grow.
But along came the fertile medium of the late 1990s local TV humor.
Apparently, it was cool or funny to “get away with” saying “haboob” on TV. It was double entendre heaven. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Haboob began to rise out of the ashes and grow.
Thankfully, the term survived that juvenile snickering phase, mostly. I still see the occasional dumb T-shirt.
Dr. Idso himself, when I spoke with him a couple of years ago, said he pretty much doesn’t like the word all that much. He also pointed out that most dust storms aren’t haboobs.
When I point out that he is, essentially, the father of the Arizona haboob, he shrugs his shoulders. “I was just doing my work,” he says.
I still got his autograph, twice, because he’s Papa Haboob. And that’s cool.
Here is one of his original articles, enjoy!
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