|A wall of dust approaches the Science Spectrum from the north around 5:40 pm on 17 October 2011. Photo is courtesy of John Holsenbeck. Click on the image for a larger view.|
Intense cold front produces severe winds and blowing dust - 17 October 2011
A storm system passing out of the Rockies into the southern plains sent a cold front racing south through the Texas Panhandle and across the South Plains and Rolling Plains late Monday afternoon and evening. Ahead of the front, temperatures were unusually warm, with highs mainly in the upper 80s to lower 90s, and even 96 degrees out at Aspermont. Temperatures dropped quickly behind the front. The high at Amarillo was only 72 degrees. As the front moved south, more and more dirt was lofted by the front until a well-defined "Haboob" (an Arabic term for intense dust storm) developed along the front.
Wind gusts recorded up to 75 mph with the front and haboob caused quite a bit of havoc across the Caprock. The National Weather Service in Lubbock received numerous reports of tree limb damage and structure damage. A few wildfires were started as the strong winds downed power lines. One of the hangers on the east side of the Lubbock Airport lost part of its roof. The wind also caused some power outages. Visibilities dropped to near zero with the haboob as it passed through Lubbock, bringing traffic to a temporary standstill as skies turned a dark orangish-brown. Long-term residents’ remarks that the dust storm was one of the worst they had ever experienced.
The storm reports that have come into the National Weather Service are shown in the map below. To view a list of the preliminary local storm reports collected by the National Weather Service CLICK HERE.
The animation below shows the cold front and associated dust storm sweeping south across parts of eastern New Mexico and much of the South Plains area.
The follow loop displays what the cold front and attendant haboob looked like from a radar perspective. The cold front moved an amazing 55 mph as it surged southward across the South Plains.
Lubbock WSR-88D radar animation from 3:49 pm to 7:04 pm CDT on 17 December 2011. The relatively wide fine line (blue) moving rapidly southward is all the dust being sensed along and immediately behind the cold front. Click on the animation for a larger version
The strongest swath of winds developed across the southwest Texas Panhandle and raced to the southeast across much of the South Plains, as noted in the following graphic:
Plot of the maximum recorded wind gusts during the late afternoon and early evening hours on 17 October 2011. The data are courtesy of the West Texas Mesonet and The National Weather Service. Click on the map for a enlarged view
Below are some more pictures taken of the haboob as it moved across the South Plains region:
The intense dust storm drew some comparisons to the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. The likeness may not be so farfetched as the region is mired in an exceptional drought, as was the case back in the Dirty Thirties. In fact, 2011 is on pace to shatter the record for the driest year in recorded history for both Lubbock and Childress. In addition, like many of the iconic pictures of rolling dust storms in the 30s, the haboob on the 17th was also caused by a strong cold front. Below is a comparison of a dust storm in the 1930s to the one that just visited West Texas.