Blowing Dust

A look at trouble spots for blowing dust around Arizona

A look at trouble spots for blowing dust around Arizona


A look at trouble spots for blowing dust around Arizona

A look at trouble spots for blowing dust around Arizona

June 6, 2016

Dust storm

By Caroline Carpenter / ADOT Communications

Anyone who has spent a summer in Arizona knows that in addition to very hot temperatures, blowing dust can be an issue. As an intern, ASU meteorology student Paul Panhans has been working with ADOT to better prepare the agency for weather events. He recently shared what forecasters look for when predicting blowing dust and where some of the trouble spots are located.

Southern Arizona

In the southern Arizona, especially Pima and Cochise counties, the one thing meteorologists look for when forecasting dust is sustained winds of 20 knots (23 mph) with gusts to 30 knots (34 mph) or more. April and May are the months with the greatest chances of blowing dust. Forecasters must consider the length of time since the last rain event when predicting blowing dust. In desert areas, it doesn't take long for the soil to dry out after it rains.  Also, dry areas in front of a storm can kick up blowing dust.

Other hotspots for blowing dust include the area east of Tucson known as the Willcox Playa to the New Mexico line. Blowing dust is typically an issue here when wind is from the south/southwest.


Another place meteorologists regularly see blowing dust is along Interstate 10 from Marana to Phoenix. The area around Picacho Peak (mileposts 208-214) can be especially busy. Winds are usually out of the southeast when blowing dust kicks up. This area is also prone to haboobs, especially in the early part of the monsoon.

Northern Arizona, including Flagstaff

While north-central and northeastern Arizona is usually not affected by large haboobs, these areas sometimes see blowing dust ahead of cold fronts. When this happens, there will be 30 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 55 mph. If it’s a dry spring, early summer monsoon outflows can produce blowing dust.

Hotspots for blowing dust in this forecast area include:


I-40 West of Winslow: “Tucker Flat” 


Chinle Valley

Northwest Arizona

Blowing dust is more likely in northwest Arizona when there hasn't been rain. Gusty winds up to 30 mph are another sign meteorologists look for. The first few storms at the beginning of the monsoon are the most likely to cause trouble. The main hotspot for blowing dust is Red Lake, north of Kingman, as seen in the map below. Thunderstorm outflows that come in from the north/northeast can hit Red Lake and quickly drop visibility. State highways like State Route 66 and US 93 are affected by these thunderstorm outflows.

East of Kingman, the risk of blowing dust decreases as the elevation starts to increase and the amount of vegetation increases. Areas along Highway 95 near Lake Havasu rarely have issues with blowing dust.


Kingman and surrounding area


Fort Mohave and surrounding area

Agricultural development near Fort Mohave can cause occasional blowing dust.

Central Arizona and Phoenix

The biggest problem in central Arizona and Phoenix is usually not large haboobs but small-scale blowing dust. This is tough to diagnose and to forecast. The greatest chance of these smaller dust storms is during a drought and when a field that used to be vegetated has been plowed.

Problem-prone areas include:

  • I-10 near Picacho Peak
  • Mormon Trail
  • Casa Grande
  • Maricopa to Sun Lakes along State Route 347

State agencies working to reduce risk of blowing dust from farm along I-10

State agencies working to reduce risk of blowing dust from farm along I-10

I-17 101 traffic interchange

State agencies working to reduce risk of blowing dust from farm along I-10

State agencies working to reduce risk of blowing dust from farm along I-10

May 12, 2016

PHOENIX – With trucks spraying water, first responders standing by to close Interstate 10 when conditions warrant, and air quality and agriculture representatives advising the land owner, state agencies are working to reduce the risk from dust blowing off recently plowed farmland in southeastern Arizona. 

The Arizona Department of Transportation and Arizona Department of Public Safety have closed 60-plus miles of I-10 several times in recent weeks as dust has severely limited visibility at milepost 376 near the New Mexico state line. That has sent traffic on a 110-mile detour from US 191 east of Willcox and from US 70 near Lordsburg, New Mexico, through Safford.

Over the weekend, ADOT began using eight tanker trucks to haul water, transferring it to two larger tankers belonging to a local contractor that are used to spray water in hopes of creating a layer of wind-resistant crust. The trucks have given an initial watering to more than 320 acres of the 640 acres responsible for most of the dust restricting visibility on the interstate.

“We’ve mobilized these forces on a short-term basis to help ensure safety and maintain mobility,” said Jesse Gutierrez, ADOT’s deputy state engineer for statewide operations.

Representatives of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and Arizona Department of Agriculture are working with the land owner on best practices for reducing dust.

Meanwhile, ADOT employees and Arizona State Troopers are stationed along I-10 near the field and are ready to immediately close the interstate when conditions warrant. With strong winds in the forecast for the coming weekend, more closures are a possibility even after trucks have given the field an initial watering.

“We realize that closing I-10 for an extended period is a hardship for motorists, for drivers of commercial vehicles and for those along the lengthy detour route, but in this case the safest option is the only option,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “ADOT and other state agencies are collaborating to improve highway safety and also limit the economic and time costs created by these dust closures.”

The agencies are keeping track of their use of state resources to reduce dust, improve highway safety and limit disruption of the I-10 corridor and will work with the land owner to arrange reimbursement.  The owner is cooperating with these efforts, but the Department of Environmental Quality can require action should that change.

“ADEQ continues to work diligently with the other state agencies and the cooperating farmer to find meaningful short- and long-term solutions to the dust issue,” said Misael Cabrera, director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “ADEQ does have enforcement authority to address excessive dust issues but reserves those actions for cases when a property owner or company does not take the required steps to solve ongoing environmental violations.”

I-10 closures east of Willcox possible as dust remains safety issue

I-10 closures east of Willcox possible as dust remains safety issue

I-17 101 traffic interchange

I-10 closures east of Willcox possible as dust remains safety issue

I-10 closures east of Willcox possible as dust remains safety issue

May 5, 2016

PHOENIX – With strong winds in the forecast, especially for Friday, the Arizona Department of Transportation is taking steps to enhance safety on a stretch of Interstate 10 in southeastern Arizona that has seen significant blowing dust. That includes coordinating with the Arizona Department of Public Safety to close the highway when conditions warrant.

Dust blowing from a recently plowed tract of land near San Simon has severely limited visibility at times in the past week, prompting ADOT and DPS to close 62 miles of I-10 between US 191 and Lordsburg, New Mexico, on several occasions.

ADOT has reduced the speed limit along five miles of I-10 (mileposts 375-380) from 75 mph to 65 mph as long as visibility isn’t significantly affected. When conditions warrant, highway crews will reduce the limit to 45 mph by placing temporary signs.

ADOT also is using overhead message signs and portable message boards to advise drivers about weather conditions, including possible strong winds and blowing dust, and the lower speed limit.

ADOT and DPS will continue to monitor National Weather Service forecasts, which at this time call for strong winds in excess of 40 mph across much of Arizona on Friday. If there is a closure, eastbound traffic will be directed to US 191 and US 70 through Safford, re-entering I-10 at Lordsburg, New Mexico, while westbound traffic will do the reverse.

Those using I-10 through southeastern Arizona should be aware of the possibility of a closure and allow extra travel time.

Drivers should remain alert to possible blowing dust at other times this week and avoid driving into a dust storm or area with severe dust conditions. If you can’t avoid severe dust, consider the following tips that are included in ADOT’s “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” public safety campaign:

  • Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway; do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
  • If caught by a dust storm, immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the dust to subside.

For the most current information about highway closures and restrictions statewide, visit ADOT’s Travel Information Site at or call 511. Highway information also is available by following ADOT on Twitter (@ArizonaDOT).