4.1 A meteorological and climatological examination of the 17 October 2011 haboob in northwest Texas

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 3:30 PM
Ballroom E (Austin Convention Center)
Gary Skwira, NOAA/NWSFO, Lubbock, TX; and M. R. Conder, S. R. Cobb, and J. Daniel

On 17 October 2011 an intense cold front moved southward through the southern High Plains. The front accelerated as it progressed into the southern Texas Panhandle. Dirt was lofted along the leading edge of the front until a well-defined haboob developed as it moved into the Permian Basin. At its peak, the haboob traveled at almost 25 m s-1 and was approximately 400 km in west to east extent. The characteristics of the haboob included measured wind gusts to 34 m s-1 and brownout conditions. Some of the impacts of the haboob included tree and structure damage, power outages and traffic accidents. The strong winds also triggered several wildfires. Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport sustained widespread damage. Total economic losses from this event were estimated at $25 million. The haboob had its genesis in an energetic mid-level shortwave trough moving out of the southern Rockies. As the attendant cold front moved south, surface analysis showed that the pressure gradient along the frontal zone increased with time, enhanced by strong heating south of the front and cloud cover and shower activity north of the front. The elevated showers also likely contributed to the acceleration of the front through downward momentum transfer. As the front advanced into the deep, well-mixed boundary layer the dust cloud developed and quickly grew as air forced upward along the front encountered no inhibition. Automated observations, personal accounts, and numerous photos/videos confirmed a drop in visibility to near zero with the passage of the haboob. Satellite and radar imagery also detected the increasingly dense concentration of dirt along the leading edge of the front. The exceptional drought which impacted the region in 2011 likely contributed to the severity of the haboob. Most of the South Plains experienced less than 30 percent of normal precipitation during this period. As a result there was a widespread crop failure which in turn led to more exposed soil available to be lofted by any strong winds. Unlike the other recent haboobs in the area, which occurred on thunderstorm outflows, this haboob was primarily associated with a cold front, more comparable to the dust storms that formed during the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s.
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