Don’t drive into a DUST STORM! Pull aside and stay safe. Stay Alive!
Dust storms (also called Haboobs) are unexpected, unpredictable, and can sweep across the desert landscape at any time. Dust storms can be miles long and thousands of feet high. You can endure these brief but powerful windstorms if you know how to react.
Dust storms can occur anywhere in the United States but are most common in the Southwest.
In Arizona, dust storms most frequently occur during monsoon season (June-September) but they can pop up at any time of the year. If you’re in a vehicle and a dust storm is approaching, the most important thing to do is to not drive into the dust storm. That’s because visibility can drop to zero, leaving you and others driving blind and making for a dangerous situation.
If you encounter a dust storm and don’t have time to exit the highway, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has developed these “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” tips to help you know what to do.
More on severe weather: Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers
Know Your Risk and Be Informed:
- Dust storms are more common near agricultural areas and near Willcox Playa in Cochise County
- Dust storms are more frequent in July and August and between 4:00 pm. and 6:00 pm
- Dust storms can reduce visibility to near zero in seconds resulting in deadly, multi-vehicle accidents on roadways
- Drivers of high-profile recreation vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a dust storm hazard:
- Dust Storm Watch: Tells you when and where dust storms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio or commercial radio for information.
- Dust Storm Warning: Issued when visibility is ½-mile or less due to blowing dust or sand and wind speeds of 30 miles an hour or more.
Take action in a vehicle:
- DO NOT drive into or through a dust storm. PULL ASIDE. STAY ALIVE.
- Immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back, and to the side) and begin slowing down.
- Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway—do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
- Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
- Turn off all vehicle lights including your emergency flashers. You do not want other vehicles approaching from behind to use your lights as a guide possibly crashing into your parked vehicle.
- Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
- Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
More on severe weather: Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers
Dust storms can be scary but they usually pass fairly quickly and you can be on your way again.
PULL OFF! LIGHTS OFF! FOOT OFF!
Take action indoors:
- Close your doors and windows.
- Consider turning off air conditioning until the dust storm passes.
- Check your camping site for chairs, tables, toys, BBQs, and other objects that can become projectiles in high winds. Bring them inside, tie them down, or secure them in some other way.
- Make sure your outside storage doors are closed and locked.
- Retract any awnings and ensure they’re securely fastened.
- Bring pets indoors.
Take action outdoors:
- Get as low to the ground as possible far away from roads and freeways
- Dust Storms often accompany severe winds and thunderstorms which could lead to flash flooding
- Avoid trees and low lying areas
- Protect your face and any exposed skin
- Cover your nose and mouth.
Stay safe, healthy, and alert:
- If you are pulled over in a vehicle, check traffic, and carefully return to the roadway
- Drive with caution
- Anticipate traffic light outages and obstacles on the road
- Report broken utility lines and damaged roadways/railways to appropriate authorities as soon as possible
- Follow instructions from the National Weather Service about additional hazardous conditions that may be expected
On the fourteenth day of April in 1935
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky…
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona Line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom…
—Woody Guthrie, from his song, The Great Dust Storm