Photo in the News: Dust Storm Bedevils Iraq

Photo: Dust storm in Iraq
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April 29, 2005—Mother Nature launched her own desert storm in western Iraq near the Syrian and Jordanian border earlier this week. U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Shannon Arledge snapped this photo of an encroaching dust storm at Al Asad on Tuesday. The tempest reportedly lasted 45 minutes and may have reached a mile (1.6 kilometers) into the sky.

The unusually strong sandstorm was caused by a downburst, according to the U.S. Marine Corps Web site, which quoted Gunnery Sgt. John B. Badeaux, a weather forecaster for the Second Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "A downburst is a strong downdraft resulting in an outward burst of damaging winds at ground level," he explained. "Downburst winds can produce damage similar to a strong tornado."

Dust storms that turn day to night are not unique to the Middle East. In China windborne clouds of dust from Inner Mongolia blanket the far-off capital, Beijing, nearly a dozen times a year. In North Africa, Sahara sandstorms can whip dust into the upper atmosphere, transporting the dust to Greenland and beyond. Australia is not immune, either. Dust storms kicked up in the outback can enshroud the city of Melbourne, hundreds of miles distant.

—Sean Markey

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