An impressive sandstorm whipped across the Arabian Peninsula on Thursday, sending a sea of red-hued dust across the desert and towards the major economic hubs of the Persian Gulf. The storm’s strong winds were caused by a high pressure center that shifted offshore.
The National, a government-owned English newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, reported 135 traffic accidents and 1,600 calls to local emergency services due to decreased visibility—about a quarter-mile at the height of the storm. Flights were delayed and diverted at Dubai’s airport, one of the world’s busiest. The UAE public health authority warned people with asthma to stay indoors. Schools in Qatar were closed due to “extreme weather conditions.”
Dust storms are common in the region, but this one was apparently of unusual severity. The UAE’s National Center of Meteorology and Seismology warned that it could continue through the weekend.
So what accounts for such a big storm? The relationship between dust storm behavior and climate change is a still a very uncertain science, but a 2011 study found a “shift in characteristics of dust storms in the Arabian Gulf,” including a recent change in mineral composition, as a sign of changing wind patterns. Previous research has shown that regardless of climate change, up to half of all atmospheric dust is directly attributable to human activity, including agriculture, overgrazing, and deforestation.