Texas Dust Storm Kills 1, Injures 17

By iScienceTimes Staff on December 20, 2012 12:14 PM EST

Texas drought
Dry conditions, like the ones in this photo of a 2011 drought, create the atmosphere necessary for large, blinding dust storms. (Photo: Reuters)

A west Texas dust storm caused a number of traffic accidents on Wednesday, injuring 17 and claiming the life of one person. The Texas dust storm forced authorities to close portions of Interstate 27 near Lubbock. Corporal John Gonzalez of the Texas Department of Public Safety told the Associated Press that the Texas dust storm blew so much sand and debris across the road that visibility dropped to almost nothing.

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"It was like a white-out, only this would be black," Gonzalez said. "You couldn't see past the hood of your vehicle."

Joe Jurecka, a meteorologist with the National Weather Services told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that the inconsistent nature of the Texas dust storm is what makes it so dangerous for driving.

"It's really dangerous to drive right now," Jurecka said. "Motorists can drive 100 feet and have decent visibility to having no visibility at all."

The DPS said the fatal accident involved a tractor-trailer and a car, while the other injuries came from an accident that involved multiple vehicles. Gonzalez said the accidents resembled the "domino effect."

"It was down to zero visibility; vehicles started slowing down and other vehicles behind them didn't," he said. "But you can't see where the crashes are, it's that bad out here."

The DPS issued a news release "strongly discouraging any travel along the I-27 corridor between Lubbock and Amarillo due to extremely dangerous conditions. Strong winds producing blowing dust are creating near-zero visibility conditions."

Gonzalez said the DPS is asking local farmers to plow their dry fields in an effort to bury the sand that has settled on top to prevent it from being swept up in the high-velocity winds, with some gusts in the Texas dust storm registering as high 55 mph.

"The wind is just terrible, and that's something we hope will help," he said.

Of course, the current Texas dust storm pales in comparison to the 1935 event known as 'The Dust Bowl.' Years of extreme drought in the late 1930s created the conditions for dozens of Texas dust storms each year. According to the Texas State Historical Association in 1932 there were 14 dust storms; in 1933, thirty-eight; in 1934, twenty-two; in 1935, forty; in 1936, sixty-eight; in 1937, seventy-two; in 1938, sixty-one; in 1939, thirty; in 1940, seventeen; in 1941, seventeen. In Amarillo the worst year for storms was 1935, when they lasted a total of 908 hours.

'The Dust Bowl' and the Texas dust storms associated with it covered more than 100 million acres at their peak in 1935.

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