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Arizona Dust Storms: Take a 360-degree look at the NWS dust sensor program

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Posted at 5:19 PM, Aug 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-02 00:41:00-04

During the monsoon in Arizona, dust storms and haboobs are a major health and safety concern.

RELATED: What is a haboob?

The blinding walls of dust can span for miles as they move through the Valley, sometimes with little warning, causing extreme danger on the roads.

Use the 360º video player below to understand how this dust sensor network is working in the desert.

"We've had some really horrific accidents involving anywhere from 60 to 100 cars," said Ken Waters, a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

In June, six people were killed in a 25-car pileup caused by a sudden dust storm near the New Mexico-Arizona border.

The winds and low visibility caused 18 commercial trucks and seven passenger vehicles to crash on Interstate 10.

These types of pileups typically occur a couple times a year, according to Waters.

To better inform people about impending dust storms, the NWS installed a dust sensor network throughout central Arizona in 2015.

Ten dust sensors were placed in Maricopa and Pinal counties to help predict impending dust storms that start in more rural areas and move into the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Each of these sensors, installed in partnership with AireBeam, is created using affordable parts.

The network of sensors is already proving its value, and another dust network, funded by the state, is being installed between Phoenix and Tucson. 

"We're working to improve the [dust] sensor network... it has been proven to be successful at detecting dust," Waters said.

Later in 2017, the NWS is also planning to roll out more targeted dust storm warnings dispatched to specific areas.

"You're going to get the warnings only if you're really in the dust storm or you're about to go into the dust storm or be impacted by it,” Waters said.