HABOOB… A dust storm by another name!

by Bea Lueck

After a recent discussion on CG CHAT about whether to call our summer monsoon storms a “dust storm” or a “haboob,” I thought this would be a timely and informational bit of useless trivia!

Haboob [huh-boob] noun: a thick dust storm or sandstorm that blows in the deserts of North Africa and Arabia or on the plains of India. [1] 

A violent dust storm or sandstorm, especially of Sudan. First known use: 1897. Origin and Etymology of HABOOB: Arabic habūb violent storm. [2] 

An intense sandstorm or duststorm caused by strong winds, with sand and/or dust often lofted to heights as high as 5,000 feet, resulting in a “wall of dust” that can be visually stunning, along the leading edge of the haboob. There is commonly a rapid and significant reduction in visibility and an increase in wind speed following the passage of the leading edge of a haboob, which can last for tens of minutes to a few hours. Haboobs are often caused by an atmospheric gravity or density current, such as thunderstorm outflow, but can also occur as a result of strong synoptic gradient winds, such as following a dryline or dry frontal passage. Haboobs occur fairly regularly in the arid and semiarid regions of the world, and can occur in any dry region. Sometimes they deposit enormous quantities of sand and/or dust.

The name comes from the Arabic word habb, meaning “to blow.” The term “haboob” originated as a description for wind and sandstorms/duststorms in central and northern Sudan, especially around the Khartoum area, where the average number is about 24 per year, with the most frequent occurrences from May through September. However, the term is now commonly used to describe any wind-driven sandstorm or dust storm in arid or semiarid regions around the world, and haboobs have been observed in the Middle East/Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara Desert, central Australia and the arid regions of Southwest in North America, from the Sonoran Desert of northwest Mexico and Arizona to the western portions of the Great Plains of the United States. [3]

Like many of the CG “Chatters,” I’m in the “dust storm” crowd. I can’t remember who the weatherman was in the 1990s, who first began using the term “haboob” on air during the weather report. While a bona fide meteorological term, to me it always seemed to be a silly, sophomoric way to say “boob” on television!

I found these definitions on weathernationtv.com – and I like these:

Haboob: “A violent and oppressive wind, blowing in summer, especially in Sudan, bringing sand from the desert.”

Sandstorm: “A windstorm, especially in a desert, that blows along great clouds of sand.”

Dust storm: “A storm of strong winds and dust-filled air over an extensive area during a period of drought over normally arable land.”

The difference between a “sand storm” and “haboob” all comes down to the area covered. A haboob is localized, and is caused by strong thunderstorm winds, which can lift dust as high as 5,000 feet. A dust storm covers a much larger area, and blows across the lowest few feet of the landscape. [4]

So what does that mean as far as what to call that severe blowing cloud of blinding dirt? Call it whatever you want – every dust storm is not a haboob, but every haboob is a dust storm!


[1]  Dictionary.com
[2]  Merriam-webster.com
[3]  Glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/haboob
[4]  Weathernationtv.com/news/every-dust-storm-isnt-haboob-every-haboob-dust-storm/