Dust storms are not only a nuisance for anyone trying to keep their house spick and span, they also pose a very real health hazard and are a major ecological concern. Respiratory problems caused by breathing in dust and other airborne particles are one of the main causes of death worldwide. To make matters even worse, dust particles, which travel freely from country to country and from continent to continent, can spread pathogens, possibly contributing to the outbreak of pandemics. Moreover, dust clouds have a hugely significant impact on the climate: They absorb and distribute the sun’s rays, thereby altering the Earth’s temperature, and they also affect the properties of clouds and patterns of rainfall.
Usually, dust storms form in arid areas, such as the Negev, the Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara and the North American and Asian deserts. The wind kicks up tiny particles from the ground and, while the larger sand particles sink close to where the storm formed, the smaller dust particles can be blown hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away. Having an early warning for waves of dust could help protect vulnerable populations and prevent the destruction of crops – and, as a bonus, save us from pointlessly cleaning our homes. But the rapid development and spread of these storms, coupled with the fact that they stretch over massive areas, makes it difficult to predict when, where and how badly they will strike.