200-mile-long ‘haboob’ dust storm sweeps over New Mexico

A massive dust storm caused by severe thunderstorms carved a path more than 200 miles long through portions of New Mexico and northern Mexico on Wednesday, resulting in dangerously low visibility and multiple car crashes. Scientists were astonished by the size and strength of the storm as satellite imagery captured the giant wall of dust in stunning detail.

The dust storm, known as a “haboob,” was generated by winds flowing away from a major thunderstorm outbreak in central New Mexico that produced flash flooding Wednesday in the same area ravaged by deadly wildfires this week. Remnants of the dust storm were visible from satellite over parts of Arizona Thursday morning, causing haze in the Phoenix area.

Aerial photographs of the haboob revealed dramatic views of the bow-shaped towering wall of dust:

“Largest haboob I’ve observed in 20 years or perhaps longer,” Tom Gill, an environmental scientist at the University of Texas at El Paso, wrote on X. Others described the satellite view of the dust storm as “unbelievable” and “absolutely incredible.”

Images and videos on social media also showed what the dust looked like as it moved through at ground level.

Visibility dropped below one quarter of a mile along the leading edge of the dust storm. The combination of low visibility and strong winds led to a multicar pileup that closed Interstate-25 near Algodones, N.M., and sent 18 people to the hospital, according to news reports.

The dust storm, and the thunderstorms that spawned it, came amid wildfires that have burned more than 20,000 acres and killed at least two people in and around the village of Ruidoso, N.M., since Monday. Regions charred by wildfires, or “burn scars,” are extremely susceptible to flash flooding, according to the National Weather Service. Burned soil can repel as much water as pavement, which increases the risk of flash flooding.


Flooding forced numerous rescues in and around the village of Ruidoso, N.M., on Wednesday as floodwaters surged down slopes charred by the fires. About 2½ inches of rain fell in 30 minutes just north of Ruidoso, where the Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency, its most severe flood alert. Water levels rose seven feet in just 20 minutes on Rio Ruidoso, a nearby river. To the north, the Weather Service reported 8 to 10 inches of fast-flowing water across a roadway near Quarai.

The thunderstorms were at least partially generated by winds associated with Tropical Storm Alberto in the Gulf of Mexico, which has brought flooding to southern and southeastern Texas and Mexico.

Wednesday was a day of weather extremes in New Mexico because of the numerous thunderstorms that erupted. In addition to flooding and mudslides in and around Ruidoso, a wind gust of 94 mph was reported near Organ in southern New Mexico. Extreme hail was also reported south of Albuquerque, piling into large drifts as high as six inches near Willard that snarled traffic for miles.

Scientists call the type of dust storm that occurred Wednesday a “haboob.” Not all dust storms are considered haboobs. The American Meteorological Society defines a haboob as “an intense sandstorm or dust storm caused by strong winds” that often lofts sand or dust as high as 5,000 feet, “resulting in a ‘wall of dust’ … that can be visually stunning.”

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


Jason Samenow and Daniel Wu contributed to this report.