A little bit (maybe a whole lot) of West Texas coming at y’all.
Welcome back to the Mailbag. Y'all alright?
Listen, last Sunday got a little loose here in Lubbock and at Texas Tech University. We hope you didn't have plans play golf, work in the yard, drive somewhere… whatever… because it just wasn't happening.
For those of you no longer living in West Texas, you missed a doozy of a haboob, one the likes of which we hadn't seen in a good while. Even with the high winds and dust storms we've been kicking up around here for the last month or so, Sunday's weather was something to behold.
I'm pretty sure if you live east of us – anywhere between Lubbock and say Meridian, Mississippi – some of this good old West Texas dust probably made its way to your yard, and just in time for some spring planting.
The Weather Channel even compared us to a scene from “Mad Max.” It brought the movie “Interstellar “to my mind, but what do I know?
But we're still here. Here with the wind if you will. What's a little 75 mph wind gust after all?
Naturally, how we in the office dealt with the chaotic bluster on Sunday became our water-cooler talk Monday morning. One team member was out grilling steaks and ended up serving them with some extra seasoning fresh delivered from New Mexico. Another's wife and daughter ended up spending a lovely night in Plainview thanks to driving conditions making it impossible for them to make it safely back to Lubbock. Yet another had to pick up her child in a grocery store parking lot for fear of the young'un taking flight.
As for your friendly Mailbag writer, mostly good, but there was a sandbox to clean up in my dining room. Sinus infection anyone?
As we were talking it got brought up that the dust storms seemed awfully bad lately. More frequent. More intense. More… annoying, if you will.
It got us wondering if these dust events were getting worse or if we were just victims of recency bias.
With that in mind we hit up some of our contacts studying atmospheric science in the Department of Geosciences – people who are much smarter than us and study these things – to see what was up.
We got back some great information!
Our first set of questions went to Karin Ardon-Dryer who got back to us early in the week via email.
Special thanks to Doug Hensley for sending out the questions
Was Sunday's dust event one of the strongest you've seen here in West Texas?
Ardon-Dryer: Sunday was sure impressive and one of the stronger ones I've experienced, but I am not sure if it was THE strongest one. I will need to go back and check my data to say that (which might take time since we have so many 🙂).
What made it so exceptional (if it was)?
AD: Just like in the last few ones we had it was a combination of conditions.
First, we are still in La Niña conditions which means dry for us, and more chances for dust. Also, the location of the low-pressure system over Colorado (with an intense upper air storm system) and the front that passed us in the late afternoon (and others) were all the ingredients needed for a good dust event.
Are we seeing more of these events now than in previous years?
AD: We might think we have been having more dust; it sure feels this way from just the last month with multiple dust events one after the other, but it may or may not be the case. We will need to go back and look at the data to verify.
Is there anything else you would like to add about dust events in West Texas?
AD: I have already heard of some people who were outside during the storm, and they are not feeling well, which highlights the fact that we should stay indoors during these events.
She went back to work and a day later Ardon-Dryer came back to us with a follow-up email.
AD: It was the strongest one we had since 2012, in term of dropping visibility for such a long time and for such low numbers.
With 14 hours of dust and 2 hours of visibility below 1 kilometer, it was definitely one for the records.
There you have it! One for the record books.
Ardon-Dryer also was kind enough to share some videos with us and they're plugged in up above.
Justin Weaver was the second person we reached out to.
Weaver the Meteorologist-in-Charge at the National Weather Service and an adjunct instructor in atmospheric science.
Like Ardon-Dryer, Weaver was kind enough to give us a few thoughts via email despite a crazy-busy week.
Paul Tubbs made contact and we sent Weaver a couple of questions. He got back to us with some great information that we feel compelled to share in full.
We're wondering if the high winds and dust storms are happening with more frequency and/or with more intensity in recent years.
Is this a trend we should get used to, or was Sunday kind of a one-off?
Weaver: Despite all of the intense dust we have experienced here lately, the frequency of prolonged low visibility in blowing dust here in Lubbock has decreased over the course of the last several decades. And that's not because it has become less windy, it's because agricultural practices have improved dramatically. It is quite uncommon for Lubbock to report several hours of blowing dust on a windy day, like we have experienced recently. Days with many hours of blowing dust were much more common during the latter decades of the 20th Century. I believe April 1974 had 150 hours of blowing dust alone. And folks who have been around here a long time will tell you the dust storm on April 10, 1979, was one of the worst they can remember. That's the date of the infamous Red River Tornado Outbreak which included the killer Wichita Falls tornado.
The dust storm Sunday afternoon and evening was really a rare combination of weather phenomena that included both of our classic dust-makers. Both of these dust-makers were invoked by an extremely strong low-pressure system that tracked through the region at that time. Ahead of the system, very strong southerly winds developed Sunday morning and early afternoon that produced numerous severe (58 mph or greater) wind gusts across West Texas. These prolonged, very strong winds lofted dust into the air that lowered visibility. This process is our more classic dust maker with strong winds slowly lofting dust into the air, and that dust tends to build and spread across the sky. The only difference here is the fact that this dust developed with southerly winds, when typically, this occurs with southwesterly or westerly winds. Dust storms of this type will lower horizontal visibility to around 4-7 miles or so.
The big difference Sunday evening was that we also had a major haboob move across the region. Haboobs are dramatic dust storms that feature a wall of dust lofted by extreme winds associated with either thunderstorm outflow or a cold front. At about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, a strong Pacific cold front moved across the city and the extreme winds (gusting as high as 77 mph here in the city) behind the front resulted in a haboob that lowered visibility to zero at times across the city. Many professional meteorologists who have been in Lubbock for many years feel like that was certainly one of the worst dust storms/haboobs we have experienced here. The haboob of October 2011 also reduced visibility to near zero, but those severe reductions didn't last nearly as long as what we saw on Sunday. I can't remember an event where we had our basic blowing dust occurring, followed by a massive haboob. I'm sure it has happened in the past, but is no doubt a rare occurrence. I'm sure there were worse events out here during the prolonged droughts of the 1930s and 1950s as well, if you can imagine that!
So, Sunday was an extreme event and we have been in a rather windy/dusty pattern lately. However, overall, the frequency of days that we experience several hours of blowing dust has decreased over the last several decades. And visibility restrictions aren't nearly as low, on average, as they tended to be several decades ago, either.
We don't know about you, but that answer certainly makes us feel a little bit better. We're all used to a little West Texas grit, but too many days like Sunday might have us questioning some life choices.
Alright, one more thing to share.
Our social media director Blake Zimmerman reached out to Chris Weiss, another of our fine atmospheric science professors, to see if he had anything to share. What we got back was another video of our Sunday fun day.
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