'We heard from a lot of people who lived here for a number of storms
and this was the worst they'd seen,' meteorologist says
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 7/6/2011 6:54:57 AM ET
PHOENIX — A dust storm up to 50 miles wide and a mile high descended on the Phoenix area on Tuesday night, grounding flights, forcing drivers to stop and causing thousands of power outages.
Towering over skyscrapers and grounding flights, the wall of dust swept
across the desert from the south at around nightfall, blanketing
The National Weather Service said strong winds with gusts of more
than 60 miles per hour moved the dust cloud northwest through Phoenix
and the cities of Avondale, Tempe and Scottsdale.
More than a dozen communities in the area also were placed under a
severe thunderstorm watch.
Hundreds seek help Phoenix's fire department received 720 emergency
phone calls during the dust storm and fire crews handled over 320
incidents during the same time period, NBC News reported.
He said that before bearing down on the Phoenix valley, radar data showed
the storm's wall of dust had reached as high as 8,000 to 10,000 feet
(nearly two miles).The dust cloud had originated in an afternoon storm in
the Tucson area before moving north across the desert, said National
Weather Service meteorologist Paul Iniguez.
Once it neared the valley, the cloud had fallen to some 5,000 feet
(just under a mile), according to the weather service.
"This was pretty significant," Iniguez said. "We heard from a lot of people
who lived here for a number of storms and this was the worst they'd seen."
The strong winds toppled trees and some 8,000 Salt River Project utility
customers were left without power, KNXV-TV reported late Tuesday.
'Grit in your teeth' The Arizona Republic reported winds also downed
live wires in Tempe that sparked a fire at a busy intersection. Firefighters
later extinguished the blaze.
"The grit in your teeth right now ... I just hear crunching," she added.
"It is amazing (the storm). It's the most amazing thing I have ever felt in my life."
Joshua Lott / Reuters
Motorists drive along 16th Street in Phoeniz, Ariz., during a dust storm on Tuesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on its website that because of
low visibility in the area, no Phoenix-bound flights were allowed to leave LasVegas or Los Angeles airports until 9 p.m. PT Tuesday
(12 a.m. ET Wednesday).
Flights at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International airport were also grounded
for about 45 minutes until about 8:55 p.m. PT, NBC News said.
A Sky Harbor spokesperson told NBC News that no Sky Harbor flights
needed to be diverted to other airports.
One flight that was supposed to fly into the smaller Mesa Gateway
airport was diverted to Phoenix.
The spokesperson said that conditions outside appeared to be back to
normal, with much of the dust settled.
The storm was part of the Arizona monsoon season, which typically starts
in mid-June and lasts through Sept. 30.