During the Great Depression, they were called dust storms—hence, the Dust Bowl. Today, the Arabic name, haboob, is catching on. But when I was a kid growing up in the desert, they were sand storms, because that's how they felt: as if you were being sand-blasted.
By now, I suspect those of you living around the Phoenix area, having just experienced your third such event of this summer, have a lot of other names for them.
If you've ever been hit by an airborne wall of dirt, you aren't likely to forget it. After all these years, I still remember well the sinking feeling in the stomach as I looked toward the nearby mountains and saw a brown cloud rolling rapidly toward me even as it boiled higher and higher into the sky. My family huddled together in the house as it hit, the terrified, whimpering dogs hiding behind the couch. Day turned to night, accompanied by the roar of high winds that seemed to go on forever. Something, I suppose, like a dry hurricane.
These epic sand storms are symptoms of serious drought conditions, much like the vast wildfires that struck earlier in the summer. (We had a relatively miniature dust storm right here in the drought-stricken Southern Plains this past week.) The desiccating high winds can damage trees and shrubs, leaving them even more vulnerable to ongoing heat and drought conditions.
Mulch and water, mulch and water. In the absence of rain, that's been the story of my life throughout this difficult summer. Millions of us have pretty much been reduced to survival tactics, just getting through the record-breaking hot/dry season; having to endure a spectacular sand storm would just add insult to injury. Tolerating three in one season cannot be good for one's disposition.
Have you can gifted with a haboob? (I have to admit, haboob does make it sound more exotic than just a mouthful of dirt.)