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Dust Storm on the Loose

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Dust storms don't just happen in the middle of the desert. They happen in any dry area where loose dirt can easily be picked up. Grains of sand tossed into the air by the wind usually fall back down to the ground after a few hours. Smaller bits of particles stay in the air for a week or longer and can be blown thousands of miles away. Dust from the Sahara desert is always blown across the Atlantic causing bright red sunrises and sunsets in Miami. The dust doesn't stop there. It keeps traveling as far as the Caribbean and the Amazon basin.

A dust storm is a strong, violent wind that carries fine particles like silt, clay, dust and other materials for long distances. The fine particles swirl around in the air during the storm. The scary thing about a dust storm is that they can spread over hundreds of miles and rise over 10,000 feet (305 meters) - well over the height of a telephone pole. They also have wind speeds of at least 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers). Not strong enough to blow the feathers off a chicken but still something worth avoiding.

Don't be surprised if you suddenly see a dust storm heading your way. Dust storms usually arrive without warning and advance in the form of a big wall of dust and debris. The dust is blinding, making driving impossible. Often they only last for a few minutes but storms usually leave serious car accidents behind. If you're in a vehicle during a dust storm remind the driver to pull over to the side of the road and turn off the headlights. Never stop in the middle of the road.

During the 1960s there were eight dust storms that caused some serious damage; 13 more in the 1970s; 14 in the 80s and more than 20 in the 1990s. Recently Australia was having problems with dust storms. Researchers said the storms cost Australia about $20 million a year in medical bills because of asthma and respiratory disease which is thought to be caused by dust storms.

In mild dust storms it's still possible to walk around although you wouldn't want to. You can't see anything because of the dust particles flying around. It's not just the dust you want to avoid. The wind carrying the dust will leave things looking like they were just hit by a tornado. The best thing to do is find safe cover in a building or stay in your car.

Have you seen a dust storm or been in one? What was it like?

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