Dust Bowl sandstorm

What causes sandstorms (duststorms)?

Sandstorms -- also called duststorms -- are caused by strong winds blowing over loose soil or sand, and picking up so much of that material that visibility is greatly reduced. The widespread abundance of loose sand in deserts makes them the most common locations for sandstorms to form.

In desert regions at certain times of the year, sandstorms become more frequent because the strong heating of the air over the desert causes the lower atmosphere to become unstable. This instability mixes strong winds in the middle troposphere downward to the surface, producing stronger winds at the surface.

The folloing NASA Aqua satellite image shows a widespread sandstorm over Afghanistan and Pakistan on August 24, 2010:
satellite image of a sandstorm in Afghanistan and Pakistan on August 24, 2010

Sandstorms are notorious for getting sand into equipment, houses, and just about every nook and cranny of everything. The abrasive characteristics of the sand can be harmful to machinery.

Interesting facts:
THE DUST BOWLThere was a prolonged drought in the Great Plains of the United States in the 1930's. This led to vast areas of exposed dirt, which helped feed dust storms. This event is believed to have been caused by an unusual sea surface temperature pattern in the eastern Pacific Ocean, made worse by poor land use practices by farmers plowing up relatively dry grassland to plant wheat. The Dust Bowl, which made life even more misearble for many during the Great Depression, was highlighted in John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath".
(page last updated 11/28/2010)
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