Dust storm envelops Phoenix, downs power lines

August 19, 2011 - 4:40 AM
Arizona Dust Storm

A dust storm moves to consume Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Ariz., Thursday August 18, 2011.(AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Pat Shannahan) MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES

PHOENIX (AP) — For the third time this summer, a giant wall of dust swept over Phoenix and parts of central Arizona, turning the sky brown, delaying flights, and knocking out power to thousands.

National Weather Service meteorologists said a thunderstorm packing winds of up to 60 mph pushed the dust storm toward the Phoenix area about 6 p.m. Thursday.

Weather officials say such massive dust storms, also known as haboobs in Arabic, only happen in Arizona, Africa's Sahara desert and parts of the Middle East because of dry conditions and large amounts of sand.

Some incoming and departing flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were delayed about 40 minutes because of the storm, according to airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez. She said take-offs and landings resumed at Sky Harbor about 6:50 p.m.

The dust storm swept through Pinal County before it headed northeast toward Phoenix.

Salt River Project officials said that at the peak of the storm 3,500 of its customers were without electricity, mostly in the Queen Creek area southeast of Phoenix, but power had been restored to nearly everyone by 11 p.m.

Power lines landed on top of several cars and one elementary school bus in Pinal County, but county spokesman Elias Johnson said there were no reported injuries and everyone got out safely including the four students on the bus.

It was the third major dust storm to hit the Phoenix metro area since last month. A storm on July 5 brought a mile-high wall of dust that halted airline flights, knocked out power for 10,000 people and covered everything in its path with a thick sheet of dust. Another dust storm hit July 18 reaching heights of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, delaying flights and cutting off power for more than 2,000 people in the Phoenix metro area.

Pollution levels skyrocket during dust storms and create even more breathing problems for people with asthma and other similar conditions.