Dust storms occur when wind carries large amounts of dirt and debris particles off land and then delivers that dirt, debris, sand, and dust to someplace else.
Dust storms are most common in dry areas, where it’s easy for soil to be lifted off the ground.
Dust storms cause both erosion and deposition. In simple terms, this means dust storms remove soil and place it somewhere else. Dust storms can easily move soil particles hundreds of miles.
How Dust Storms Form
As air moves over ground, it picks up light, small soil particles.
These soil particles get swept into the air, then they bounce off the ground.
This process (called saltation) loosens other particles of soil.
Before long, many particles of soil are being moved by the wind – some are suspended in the air, others travel along the ground, and yet others bounce along the ground. Massive amounts of soil can be moved in this manner, forming a dust storm.
Some dust storms can produce a wall of dust and dirt nearly a mile high. In fact, by appearance alone, dust storms can look every bit as menacing as tornadoes.
Common causes of the winds producing dust storms are dry cold fronts and outflows of wind near a thunderstorm.
Where Dust Storms Occur
Major dust storms have occurred in places like Australia, where a major portion of the land area is arid.
They have also taken place in Asia and Africa, where much of the land area is dry.
In the United States, dust storms are particularly common in the Southwest, where hundreds of thousands of square miles see little if any rain throughout the year.
Are Sandstorms Different?
Sandstorms are a type of dust storm common in desert regions, such as in Africa’s Sahara Desert.
Saharan sandstorms have caused the erosion of soil and sand from many nations in the Sahara region and have blown sand particles into and over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Dust Bowl
Have you ever heard of the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl was a series of dust storms occurring throughout the mid-1930s, when America was already reeling from the devastating economic conditions collectively referred to as the Great Depression.
Farmers in the Plains states suffered terribly because of the soil and land destruction caused by the many dust storms which occurred during this period of dry weather.
The Dust Bowl spelled the end of farming for many families in the Midwest. Many people moved because their lives were ruined by the dust storms. Production of all types of agricultural goods was affected by the Dust Bowl, and this only caused further ripple effects in the feeble economy.
I'm a weather geek from Florida who's been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years! I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about the weather. I especially like sharing interesting details about weather events and conditions that can affect you… and how to prepare for Mother Nature's ever-changing weather patterns.