What's a haboob, you ask? It's a dust storm.
Last weekend's big dust storms across Eastern Washington were not an anomaly. Residents in Central and Eastern Washington face the threat of dust storms every spring through fall. Strong winds can pick up dry soil and blow it into vast clouds that wreak havoc on the health and safety of all in their path.
That's what happened on Sunday — strong winds across the Columbia Basin kicked up clouds of dust, limiting visibility for drivers. Our air quality forecasters and the National Weather Service issued alerts, and I-90 was closed from Moses Lake to Ritzville due to extreme conditions. The same thing happened last year as well, when a dust storm developed in Ritzville on April 11.
Read more below about what to do if you’re caught in a dust storm, how to check air quality monitors, and what we’re doing to help.
What you can do
It can be challenging to avoid stirring up dust. You can help by driving slower on unpaved roads and by postponing projects at home that stir up dust. If you find yourself in a dust storm, protect yourself by:
- Staying indoors as much as possible.
- Closing windows, doors, and vents.
- Covering your nose and mouth.
- Wearing an N95 mask designed to block dust particles.
- Watching for sudden changes in visibility while driving.
- Avoiding driving during windy conditions when windblown dust is likely.
- Pulling over and turning on your headlights and hazard lights as a safety precaution.
How dust storms affect your health
Dust storms pick up fine particles, called particulate matter — or PM10 — that are smaller than a human hair or grain of sand. These particles are harmful to your health when inhaled. The particles can settle deep into your lungs, irritating or damaging sensitive tissues in your respiratory system.
Those at high risk are infants, small children, people with asthma or respiratory issues, the elderly, and those who engage in strenuous outdoor activities.
How we help protect you
Ecology and local clean air agencies monitor the air for dust and other types of air pollution.
You can track air quality in your area on Ecology’s Air Quality Monitoring website or download the Air Quality WA app from the Google Play Store or Apple App store.
Sign up for National Weather Service Wireless Emergency Alerts to receive high wind warnings. Weather.gov has links to a number of alert services.
You can also join our email list to receive additional information on dust management and dust storms in Washington.
Agricultural & construction practices make a difference
Agricultural and construction projects that leave the ground bare can stir up dust that contributes to the formation of dust storms.
In April 2019, we developed a High Wind Fugitive Dust Mitigation Plan that focuses on agricultural dust sources in the Tri-Cities area. We meet regularly with a workgroup made up of conservation districts and the Benton Clean Air Agency to promote voluntary soil erosion prevention practices.
The conservation efforts are paying off. Dust storms are occurring less frequently in Washington since the mid 1990s because agricultural workers are implementing better management practices to prevent soil erosion, such as:
- No-till farming
- Direct seeding
- Planting cover crops
- Establishing windbreaks
For more information
Contact the clean air agency for your area: