The dramatic, ominous-looking dust storms recently seen engulfing Phoenix briefly took center stage in weather news. Yet another dusty weather phenomenon common to the Southwest--the dust devil--puts on shows for much of the year as well.
Dust devils form with the help of mostly flat topography, the right soil composition, and a rapid change in wind direction as hot air rises.
Forming mostly from spring through late fall, the tiny, tornado-like vortices range from tens of feet high to thousands and can be a few feet wide to over a hundred. They can last for seconds or for up to twenty minutes.
And while the onset of our summer thunderstorms may decrease their frequency, these rainstorms can increase dust devils' potency. That can result in considerable damage, National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Ken Drozd explains.