Sandstorms (or Haboobs) freak me out each time and even after years of witnessing them in the UAE, I’m still giddy when I see the skies here go hopping mad. Despite how ill-omened they appear as the fierce winds raise clouds and columns of sand bringing a coat of tan-colored fog that instantly blinds drivers and brings all the hustle-bustle of this Boomtown to a screeching halt, I am still spellbound by its natural splendor.
So, of course, what do I always do when the first plume of dust appears on the horizon? I grab my camera and get into full paparazzi mode. Sandstorms are best to watch from indoors and I would certainly not want to encounter one while driving by myself out there in the wilderness of Dubai’s jungle freeways. With an obscured sun and almost zero visibility, the safest thing to do is pull over until it’s over. The freaklicious thing about them is how they can slowly approach and just envelope your whole area. This gives for some really cool video footage. I don’t think you are a bona fide Dubai expat until you’ve filmed a moving sandstorm. Your first time is always the best, apocalyptic almost, and your repeated OMGs are like a broken record.
Every expat here is guaranteed to have a sandstorm story. Ours is both funny and sad. We purchased a trampoline once for our kids and it ended up about two blocks down the road after its first night’s use. A hellish sandstorm came out of nowhere and snatched it up right before we wildly ran up the stairs in an attempt to salvage it. That was the end of that. No more trampolines. All that remains are the fun pictures we took jumping up and down in the dang thing.
Check out this neat short clip here published by The National: http://www.thenational.ae/video-stunning-time-lapse-of-dubai-sandstorm
Just how dangerous are they? Well legend says that one dust storm in the sixth century vanished Persian ruler Cambyses II’s entire army in Egypt’s Western Desert. Egypt also had a pretty nasty one as recent as 2005, with wind gusts up to 113 kph (70 mph). Other than the obvious difficult driving conditions, they can affect those with breathing-related problems. They are also known to carry large amounts of allergens including bacteria, fungi, viruses and pollens so best bet is to get inside as soon as possible. The real bad ones are often called Brownouts, pretty much zero visibility.
And heaven forbid we have clothes out on the drying racks on our porches! Back to the laundry basket they go because obviously taking pictures of the sandstorm was more important than pulling off the clothes so they don’t get showered in the beige soot. So instead of sweeping out debris and water from a rainstorm back home in the Caribbean, here I sweep up little hillocks of sand that form my porch and even the particles that have managed to seep indoors. If you get stuck outside for any reason, no doubt you will find sand in your nose, ears, mouth and every opening of your clothes.
But fear no more because a new Sandstorm Forecasting/Prediction system was recently launched in the UAE which will be able to give us real-time storm predictions. Yippie ki-yay! Now I can plan ahead and sit by my screened door waiting for the first signs of the predicted dust storm — wide-eyed and camera-ready! I shall wait, with baited breath, for that Mission Impossible 4 sandstorm that I have yet to see. I bet that one will make my blood run cold, but I think I’m ready for it because I expect Tom Cruise to make a mad dash out of it towards my way! Talk about a Kodak Moment there!