Dust Storms

Dust storms are unexpected and unpredictable. Learn how to respond and protect your lungs.

Dust storms and haboobs, an intense type of dust storm, can occur anywhere but are most common in the Southwest. The health effects of a dust storm can depend on the size of the dust particles, how long you are exposed to the storm and if you have a lung condition.

Dust particles can linger in the air for a few hours up to 10 days. Particles that are breathed into the lungs may cause or worsen coughing, wheezing, lower respiratory tract infections, lung diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Children, older adults and people with lung disease are most at risk of lung irritation following a dust storm. If you have respiratory symptoms after exposure, contact your healthcare provider.

What Causes Dust Storms?

Dust storms are caused by strong winds sweeping dust and soil from dry land into the air. Haboobs are the result of thunderstorm winds. Dust storms typically last only a few minutes to an hour, but they are highly dangerous for drivers and people who are outside during the storm.

Before a Dust Storm

Make sure that you are receiving National Weather Service Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to be notified of an impending dust storm. These alerts are automatically enabled on most devices and include extreme weather alerts, AMBER alerts, and Blue alerts. If you are not receiving these notifications, contact your cellular provider to see if your device is WEA-compatible.

During a Dust Storm

  • Stay indoors if possible. If you are outside when a dust storm begins, cover your nose and mouth, and seek shelter immediately. Close doors and windows, and bring pets inside. Put air conditioners on the recirculation setting so outside air will not be moved into the room and clean air will circulate through air conditioners and air cleaners.
  • If you are driving, use caution. Carefully pull off the road as soon as possible, park your vehicle and turn off lights. If you keep your lights on, other drivers may try to follow your taillights to get through the storm and crash into you. Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened until the storm passes.

After a Dust Storm

  • Continue protective measures as needed as dust particles can linger in the air for a few hours up to 10 days.
  • Monitor yourself and loved ones for respiratory symptoms and contact your healthcare provider if you have any new or worsening symptoms.

Climate Change and Dust Storms

The changing climate is contributing to drought and extreme temperatures, which increases the risk of dust storms. Learn why addressing climate change is important for lung health.
Learn more

How Does a Saharan Dust Storm Affect Lung Health?

Dr. Meredith McCormack explains what a surge in dust means for our lungs and what we can do to combat the effects.
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Page last updated: March 19, 2024

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