HABOOBophobia? In Texas there is much ado about usage of the Arabic term for dust/sand storm – “haboob”

haboob-1024x576Texans want to know why meteorologists and broadcasters feel compelled to replace a perfectly good name – ‘dust/sand storm’ – with the Arabic equivalent – ‘haboob?’ The persistent use of the term apparently isn’t sitting well with some residents in Lubbock, Texas. Hey, why not just call it “dust jihad?”

Washington Post  A wall of dust raced toward Lubbock, Texas, on Sunday, and the National Weather Service threw out a word of caution on its Facebook page. “A haboob is rapidly approaching the Lubbock airport and may affect the city as well,” the meteorologists wrote.

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Reader John Fullbright wrote: “Haboob!?! I’m a Texan. Not a foreigner from Iraq or Afghanistan. They might have haboobs but around here in the Panhandle of TEXAS, we have Dust Storms. So would you mind stating it that way. I’ll find another weather service.”

Brenda Daffern added: “In Texas, nimrod, this is called a sandstorm. We’ve had them for years! If you would like to move to the Middle East you can call this a haboob. While you reside here, call it a sandstorm. We Texans will appreciate you.”

To be clear, the Weather Service’s use of “haboob” was entirely appropriate. It describes a situation in which a collapsing thunderstorm exhales a burst of wind. This burst of wind, or outflow, collects dust in the surrounding arid environment. The dust can grow into a towering dark cloud, the so-called haboob, that sweeps across the landscape, cutting visibility to near zero. 

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Haboobs are common in the desert Southwest and the Middle East, where the term originated.

At Weather Underground, meteorologist Bob Henson clarified the difference between haboobs, very localized phenomena, and dust storms and sand storms, which tend to cover more territory:

Extreme blowing dust episodes, or duststorms, typically cover a large area, as opposed to the narrow zone of a haboob. Sandstorms occur when sand grains are blown across the lowest few feet of the landscape, usually in true deserts rather than semiarid regions.

Objections to the use of haboob are not unique to Texas. The New York Times wrote about an uproar over the term in Arizona in 2011, when Don Yonts of Gilbert, Ariz., told the Arizona Republic: “I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob, How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”