What’s a haboob? Ask any Middle Easterner that question and they’ll tell you. But this weather phenomena also occurs in Australia, North Africa, and North America, particularly around Phoenix, Arizona. If you haven’t heard of the word before it’s because most Americans erroneously dub it a dust storm. I grew up in Bakersfield, California (a desert climate irrigated for agriculture) and have been in a few dust storms in my day around Bakersfield and traveling through the Mojave Desert. They were nothing like the haboobs I researched for my book Daystealer.
The weather can play a key role in a story or support your plot. In Twister and The Perfect Storm, weather is up front and center as a main character, while in Grapes of Wrath and Wizard of Oz, the Dust Bowl and a tornado drive the plot and prompt reactions from the main characters, moving them from one place to another. Even weather disasters of today are made into movies, such as Tsunami.
In my novel, the protagonist Trinidad confronts a childhood fear–a haboob. Since she grew up in Egypt, it made sense that one of her few memories might be a monster that had buried many of her people alive. When my characters find themselves on a road trip from the old LA to the East Coast, they cross the Arizona desert and face such a monster.
People in Daystealer are in the midst of a worldwide drought, making the deserts prime conditions for haboobs. Here is a quick rundown of a haboob’s characteristics:
- Storms collapse when they begin to release precipitation until wind directions reverse, gusting out from the storm
- Downdraft of cold air, or downburst, reaches the ground, and blows dry, loose silt and clay up from the desert, creating a wall of sediment that precedes the storm cloud
- Wall of dust can be 62 miles wide and several kilometers in elevation
- Winds approach with little or no warning, often at 20-60 mph
- Rain doesn’t usually reach the ground, evaporating in the hot, dry air
- Eye and respiratory system protection are advisable
- Moving to shelter is highly desirable during a strong event
I talked with a couple of friends who had grown up or lived in Arizona (thank you Ellen and Cheryl). Through my interviews, I was able to create a truly horrific monster that Trinidad believes could kill her. Have you ever experienced weather as a monster? What about thunderstorms as a child or earthquakes in California? I would love to hear about your weather monster.
Still pictures do not do the haboob justice. Here is a short 30-second sped-up video of one on July 5, 2011 hitting the city of Phoenix.