Texas dust storms: Where they happen the most
Texas dust storms: Where they happen the most

Texas dust storms: Where they happen the most

It’s 1935 in middle America and a storm is raging outside, rattling the walls of your farmhouse. Dust pours in from every nook and cranny, covering the floors and counters. The cloth you are holding to your face is already dirty and you are choking as you try to gasp for fresh air. Imagine enduring that feeling for a decade!

Dust storms may not seem like a big deal in modern times, but they are capable of causing local and widespread destruction. The Dust Bowl lasted from 1930 to 1940, killing 7,000 people, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and completely decimating the agricultural business. Are there any more dust storms in Texas? Find out where it’s happening the most and whether we could be facing another Dust Bowl in the future.

What are dust storms?

Dust bowl
Drought, wind and dry farming cause dust storms.

NOAA George E. Marsh Album / public domain

A dust storm, also called a sandstorm, is a wall of dust, sand, and debris blown into an area by strong winds. This phenomenon is common in arid and semi-arid regions such as the southwestern United States, the Middle East, and North Africa. Dust storms occur more frequently in late winter and early spring and can create walls of dust miles long and several thousand feet high, completely engulfing homes and businesses.

Dust storms occur when strong winds, usually produced by thunderstorms, blow up dirt from flat, dry land. Sandstorms need space to create momentum, and the fewer objects in their path, the more wind speed and dust they can kick up. A dust storm is unlikely to form when an area has trees, plants and rolling hills.

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Drought and wind combined with dry farming involving intensive tillage cause dust storms. High wind speeds and prolonged droughts cause dust particles to dislodge from the soil. When gust fronts move into areas of loose dirt, the particles begin to vibrate before passing over a surface in a process called salting.

Why are dust storms dangerous?

Dust storms cause car accidents, mechanical breakdowns, flight delays and health problems.

iStock.com/mdesigner125

Dust storms can have severe short- and long-term effects. These giant walls of dirt catch people off guard and can cause car accidents, reduce pilots’ visibility, and cause mechanical breakdowns. They can also cause asthma attacks for those with breathing difficulties.

Surprisingly, these storms can also increase the spread of disease around the world. Strong winds can blow virus spores into the atmosphere, mixing with air pollution. People who experience prolonged exposure to dust particles can develop dust pneumonia, lung disease and cancer. Severe dry eyes are also a common problem and can lead to blindness in extreme cases.

Environmentally, dust storms can significantly reduce agricultural productivity by causing soil loss, removing organic matter and damaging young crops. But salting can also benefit agriculture. It can deposit highly fertile soil in regions that need it, causing more crops to grow in the future.

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Where do dust storms happen the most in Texas?

Lubbock, Texas
Dust storms are more common in the High Plains around Lubbock.

iStock.com/Patricia Elaine Thomas

Dust storms in Texas can occur at any time of the year and across most of the state. However, they are more prevalent in the High Plains around Lubbock in late winter and early spring. These storms are still prevalent today, creating thick walls that block the sun, 60 mph winds, and zero visibility. West and North Texas are usually hit the hardest in desert areas after a cold front. The amount of dust storms in Texas varies, but around 5 to 25 occur annually.

What happened on Black Sunday?

Black Sunday refers to the largest storm in the Dust Bowl and one of the worst in American history. On April 14, 1935, a dust storm dubbed the “black blizzard” blew through parts of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. But the worst of the storm was concentrated around areas of Oklahoma and Texas.

Personal accounts of the day describe a monstrous cloud, hundreds of miles long and black as night, descending on farming communities. People could not see their hands in front of their faces; some even choked to death. It caused massive economic and agricultural damage, displacing 300,000 tons of soil. Shortly after Black Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people moved.

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What should you do during a dust storm?

You should always heed storm warnings and stay indoors.

iStock.com/Susan Vineyard

Dust storms can be dangerous. Check out these tips to stay safe.

  • If you are driving when a storm is approaching, slow down immediately, pull over and turn off your car lights. Keep your seat belt on and make sure all windows are down and air vents are closed.
  • If you are at home, close all windows, doors, curtains and blinds. Turn off the air conditioning and close any vents. Preferably stay in a room without windows.
  • If you have time, remove things from your property that could become flying debris.
  • Always heed storm warnings and stay indoors. If you can’t get home in time, take shelter in a nearby building.

Could the Dust Bowl happen again?

The summer of 1936 was once the hottest in US history, but it isn’t anymore. The summer of 2021 broke that record for the first time. In fact, the past seven years have been the hottest in recorded history. Heat waves in the 1930s helped propel the Dust Bowl, but scientists think it’s 2.5 times more likely to happen in our modern climate. Their study concluded that even if we take steps to mitigate climate change today, it may not be enough to prevent a second Dust Bowl.

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