Weather Thesaurus Entry: Dust or Sandstorm

This Weather Entry has been generously written by Paranormal Author Jami Gold, who recently experienced Phoenix's Haboob storm. Huge thanks to Jami for offering her first-hand encounter with this incredible phenomenon! Make sure to swing by Jami's blog, which is an incredible resource for all writers looking to improve their mad skillz. Also, Jami has some spectacular footage of the actual storm, so if you are writing about this type of weather or want to see what she experienced, check out her link here. It's amazing to watch this storm in action.

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:  Before a dust storm hits, the sky is blue and the winds are calm.  A random glance to the horizon reveals a wall of brown air stretching high.  The size (up to 60 mi/100 km wide and several km high) makes it clear that the cloud is not smoke.  A dust storm, also known by the Arabic word “haboob,” is on the way.  They usually approach with very little warning.  The flat wall of brown makes it difficult to judge how far away it is unless the observer is elevated above the landscape.  By the time the cloud’s proximity is apparent, it’s within a half-mile and observers might have less than a minute to seek shelter.  A few seconds before the wall of dust hits, the winds strengthen, tossing tree branches from side-to-side.  Day turns to an orange-ish dusk or night and landmarks just a couple hundred feet away disappear behind the dirty air.  The winds keep dirt suspended in the air, coating everything with a fine layer of dust.  Driving and being outside is dangerous.  The strongest storms have winds near 70 miles per hour (110+kph).  The movement of so many particles in the air renders radar installations (airports, military, etc.) blind while engulfed in the dust cloud.  The worst of the dust will usually pass within 30 minutes, but if not followed by a rainstorm, the air can remain choked with dust for hours and stay hazy for days.  Branches and whole trees can be knocked down by the winds.

Smell:  Dust.  Some semi-arid locations have creosote bushes as vegetation, which give off a distinctive smell if rain is following in the wake of the dust.  Breathing will be laboured with the dirty air.

Taste:  Dust.

Touch:  Eyelids want to close to keep out the dust.  Eyes sting and water, and moisture from tears mixes with dirt to leave grimy streaks on the face.  The wind-driven dust sandblasts bare skin.  Hands are raised to protect the face.  Fingers lift the neck of a shirt to cover the mouth and nose.  Fabric is pressed against the face to ease breathing.  The mouth gets dry and feels like sandpaper.  Every touch, especially skin against skin, concentrates the dirt in an area with sweat and skin oils to produce small grit particles that roll between the surfaces and scour the skin.  A coating of dry grit covers hair, clothes, and skin, and fills the nose and ears.  A person will feel so dirty that they think they’ll never get clean again.

Sound:  The sound of a dust storm depends on the location.  Outside or in a secure building, the noise is similar to a strong wind.  However, if there are windows around or the structure is unstable, like a tent, the dirt pelts the surface with a rushing, tapping sound like rain.  Leaves rustle in the wind, tree branches creak and might break.  Thunder might sound from the storm following behind the dust cloud.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood:  A small dust storm can reinforce a drought or warn of over-farming.  A large dust storm creates a sense of dread.  Large storms are rare, so we cannot help watching as it approaches.  We stand awestruck by the size and know it’s inescapable.  As it closes in, we realize our perspective is all wrong and that the cloud is much nearer than we thought.  Panic takes hold as we scramble to find shelter.  The storm traps people in their location until it passes.  The strength of a large storm is a reminder of human fragility.

Symbolism:  Power of nature, inevitability or unavoidable, apocalypse, Godly disfavour, evil swallowing the land

Possible Clichés:  Nothing that stands out.

OTHER:  When large thunderclouds collapse, a downdraft of wind hits the ground and can blow dust or sand into the air, creating a wall of sediment that precedes the rest of the storm.  Dust storms occur in desert-like or over-farmed conditions, where loose soil is easy for winds to pick up.  The type of deserts that produce dust storms might have vegetation, like cactus, Palo Verde trees, Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and scrub brush.  Deserts of sand dunes, like the Sahara, produce sand storms instead of dust storms and the weather conditions surrounding these storms can be different because of the heavier sand particles.  In the southwestern part of the United States, the seasonal monsoon storms during the summer months create large thunderhead clouds during the heat of the day, releasing that energy in the late afternoon and evening.  When using this type of storm, do your research to make sure the weather, climate, seasonal, and time-of-day facts fit your fictional setting.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

23 comments:

Pk Hrezo said...

Wow, what a vivid description! I've always wondered what a dust storm would be like. I love the image of the down spirited character watching the glimmer of sunlight on the snow. Beautiful!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

We have issues with dust and wind from time to time, but nothing like this. Thank goodness. I think I prefer blizzards.

Great job, Jami. Thanks for doing this.

tracikenworth said...

Another scary setting. It makes for exciting imagery in our writing. Thanks!!

Angela Ackerman said...

Jami, thanks so much for sharing your account of this amazing event. So many of us will not experience this first hand, or at least something of this magnitude, so how wonderful to have you share what it was like so we can add realism to our writing.

You rock, and your blog rocks! (Musers, if you don't yet follow Jami, now is the time to start!)

Angela

Michelle Gregory said...

so glad a great post came out of a nasty storm. i think i can still taste the dust from when i went outside that day.

MG Higgins said...

I can tell from the photo that the video must be incredible. I'm going to Jami's blog momentarily. Thanks for another wonderful set of descriptions. Good point about weather cliches. I get tired of lightning storms used to up the fear factor.

Carrie Butler said...

My eyes are burning, just thinking about it! Great post! :)

Murphy said...

Great account, Jami! there's a lot of material in there for a writer who wants to give it a swirl. ;)

I expect to see one of these in your next book.

Murphy

genelempp said...

Nicely done, Jami! It leaves me wondering if we should send other weather anomalies your way...

Jami Gold said...

Thank you, Angela (and Becca), for having me over to play in your sandbox (hee!) today. :)

I hope people find this as helpful as I've found so many other articles here at The Bookshelf Muse. Love you guys!

(And thanks for the blog love too. :) )

Matthew MacNish said...

That photo is so scary. But the post, as usual, is most excellent.

Becca Puglisi said...

Wow. What a truly creepy picture. Jami, thank you so much for doing this entry, since the only dust I have experience with is the stuff on the top of my cabinets. So glad you did this one!

ralfast said...

In the Caribbean we suffer the after effects of massive sandstorms (I know, not the same) that blow all the way from the Sahara.

Yes, from North Africa. Just go to Google Maps and using the rule tool measure the distance. Nature is that powerful.

Charissa Weaks said...

Fabulousness :)

Tamara LeBlanc said...

See, I needed you to set me straight here...I just left a comment on your blog and wrote that the only DUST storm I've ever seen was the one on the movie, The Mummy...um, duh, lovely Brenden Fraiser was in the Sahara so it would be sand, like you said:)
What great info you gave here. Loved the images that formed in my head with each consecutive passage.
Thank you so much for turning me on to this sight!! I had no idea it existed.
And at the end you mentioned that Foreshadowing Conflict is soon to come, is that here or on your site? It sounds like a good one:)
Have a great evening!!
Tamara

Tanya Reimer said...

There is magic all around us, is there not? Only a writer can make dust come to life like this. wow. I can taste it and my eyes are burning.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting to learn about my future weather anomalies where I'm headed - great job!

Shauna (murgatr)

Karen Lange said...

Appreciate this info. I especially like the idea of unusual pairings. Good food for thought, thanks!

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post. As for the picture, all I can say is WOW!

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss angela and miss jami! i went at miss jamis blog and looked at those cool vidios. wow i couldnt ever think so much dust could make that big a cloud. its pretty scary watching it. i like this post cause it new weather stuff for me. but i gotta tell you its got me feeling all itchy and grundgy. ack!
...hugs from lenny

Debbie Davis said...

very awesome info! Im glad I stumbled upon this blog, and now I must follow it too =0)

Mary Witzl said...

Brilliant. We covered weather a few weeks ago in the class I'm teaching and one of my Middle-eastern students tried to describe dust storms. This gives me an even better idea what one is like -- and the fervent desire never to be in one myself!

Leslie Rose said...

I had a friend that just rode that bad boy out in Arizona. She said both she and her car had a buff color coating.

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