Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"Haboob" Hits Phoenix


If you haven't watched these time-lapse videos of this storm making its way across the city of Phoenix, they are definitely worth watching. This storm looks like something supernatural out of a Harry Potter movie. For another view worth watching, check out this great clip of the storm from Scott Wood Photography. Finally, from a slightly different perspective, and the video that I think is the best of all, a clip of what it looked like to drive into the storm.  

I had never heard the word "haboob" used to describe a dust storm in the U.S. before. As an Arabic linguist, I was very familiar with a similar word in Arabic which can be used to refer to grains, cereals, seeds, kernels (among other things like berries, acne, pustules and pimples). Probably the closest approximation of that word in English would be (huboob). I thought that maybe the word "haboob" had something to do with grains of sand or dust flying through the air, but that is not where this word comes from.

It turns out that the term "haboob" is also from a very similar term in Arabic, but it is spelled with a different "H." While "haboob" is a term that I may have heard a couple of times to describe a very specific wind in the Sahara, I don't remember hearing it used to refer to dust storms in general before. It's always fun to find a new Arabic word being used in English. I will have to ask some of my friends who are native speakers of Arabic about the root word, which is "habb" (which has all sorts of meanings dealing with movement, one of which apparently is: "to gust," as in wind).

It's so interesting how even after so many years I can still find words that seem so basic, but which somehow haven't yet been placed into my memory banks. It seems that I often retain only the first word that I learned for a particular concept. After that, I get into the habit of using that word exclusively, and others that come up wind up being looked up in the dictionary many times before becoming a part of my repertoire.

In this case, the Arabic word that I've always used for wind is "rih, pl: riyah / arwah," which, interestingly enough, comes from same root as a common word for "soul" (not to mention the words for "fart," and conveniently enough "smell" and "odor" as well). A fascinating language indeed, and one whose nuances and connections never cease to fill me with wonder at its complexity and its beauty.

Anyway, I witnessed a dust storm very much like this Phoenix storm when I was living in Yuma, Arizona back in the late 80's / early 90's time-frame. I was probably trucking along in our family's '73 Dodge "hippy" van (that had a moonscape on the side, a 17' aluminum canoe top, and a converted interior, complete with sink, refrigerator, and a bed). I loved that van... It was fascinating to watch the valley disappear bit by bit beneath the storm as it moved from east to west. I had a great, elevated vantage point near Arizona Western College from which to watch the storm's advance down-river, across the irrigated farmlands, towards the city. It was a fantastic sight that I will never forget.

Here is a video from The Weather Channel on YouTube of the live coverage that occurred when the Phoenix storm first hit.