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Persistent Dust Storms on the Southern Arabian Peninsula

Persistent Dust Storms on the Southern Arabian Peninsula
Persistent Dust Storms on the Southern Arabian Peninsula

In late February 2015, a significant winter storm stirred up dust and sand across much of the Arabian Peninsula. The low-pressure system energized strong northwest winds that carried dust from as far as northern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait to the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite captured these images of the sand storm on February 23 and 24. Because of the desert landscape and the widespread nature of the event, the airborne particles are easier to see over open water. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the motion of the dust.

Sand storms are common in the region at this time of year, though this one seems particularly potent and long-lasting—five days so far. Poor visibility has been the biggest danger, causing hundreds of automobile accidents across Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Visibility dropped as low as 500 meters at Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai.

The weather system brought rain and snow to several locations, and rough seas along the coast. Temperatures in Muscat, Oman, dropped from 38 degrees Celsius (100°F) on February 20 to 20°C (69°F) on February 24. The city of Dubai (UAE) deployed thousands of workers to clear dust and debris from the streets. News reports said more than 21 tons of sand had been cleared from the city alone. Government authorities in several countries warned people to stay inside as much as possible and to cover their noses and mouths when walking outside. The storms are a particular danger to people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

In a bit of comic relief from an otherwise difficult and sometimes dangerous situation, the persistent dust storms caused it to rain money in a part of Saudi Arabia’s Southern Asir province. According to news reports, the source of the paper currency was not identified, but it is believed that thousands of notes were swept up by the wind as employees tried to fill an automated banking machine.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership. Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense. Caption by Michael Carlowicz.