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Epic dust storm descends on West Texas [video]

October 18, 2011 | 11:21 am

A giant dust cloud that some residents are calling one of the worst in decades swept through Lubbock, Texas, late Monday, blotting out the sky and prompting witnesses to share their observations via, where else, social media.

Among the online video posts, some compiled by Storyful, and Twitter comments was this Tweet from Sandy Clem: "Have to shower after being outside in this tornado of dust." Clem also posted a photo of the gray-red dust cloud blotting out most of a road in the Lubbock area, about 320 miles west of Dallas.

The 8,000-foot rust-colored cloud reportedly traveled at wind speeds of up to 75 mph, toppling trees, downing power lines, sparking small wildfires and damaging a hangar at Lubbock Airport and the roof of a fire department.

The National Weather Service in Lubbock posted photos, map and animation online tracking the dust cloud's spread, including images of the cloud descending on the Overton Hotel near the Texas Tech campus.

Jerald Meadows, a meteorologist based in Lubbock, told The Times that dust storms of about 1,000 feet are common in Lubbock, but that Monday's immense cloud was "fairly rare," a product of dry conditions and a cold front sweeping into town from the Rockies with extra strong winds.

The cloud formed what meteorologists call a haboob, an Arabic term for a type of well-defined dust storm that means “strong wind,” Meadows said.

The occurrence can be traced, at least in part, to the state's current, long-lasting drought, which the state climatologist has said could last a decade.

About 62% of the state was experiencing the worst two drought conditions last week, down slightly from the week before, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report.

On the AccuWeather website, Senior Meteorologist Frank Strait had this to say about the drought:

"When you have winds blowing over 60 mph in Lubbock, like they have been, it makes you prone to dust storms," Strait said. "When the soil gets really dry, this year is an extreme example of it, you start getting blowing dust out there. You can kick up quite a bit of dust and lower the visibility. It can make everything dirty too, ha, which is no fun."

Meadows said spring and summer wildfires burned off grasses and other plants that would have held local soils in place, while the ongoing drought reduced what was left of local undergrowth.

The powdery red dirt was lifted by the winds “almost like flour,” he said.

West Texans tell tales about being chased home by dust clouds as children, leaping from swimming pools and dashing into neighbors' homes as gritty dirt bit into their bare legs.

But many of Lubbock's roughly 230,000 residents said they had never seen anything like Monday's mammoth dust cloud, even during the state's longest drought, which began in 1947 and lasted for a decade.

"Amazing dust storm, worse than anything I saw in Texas Panhandle in the 1950s," tweeted Sam Braudt, aka LubbockSam.


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Video: An 8,000-foot dust cloud can be seen sweeping into Lubbock, Texas, on Monday, whipped up from drought-dry land about 320 miles west of Dallas. Credit: YouTube