15 April 2022

It's a haboob - get over it!

[This post is a repost of one I wrote in 2011.  I'm replacing the original video (which has undergone linkrot over the years) with this one I found at  Kottke.  I don't know if the 2011 discussion included below is still relevant, or whether Arizona residents have finally gotten over their Islamophobia.]

When the massive dust storm hit Phoenix, the photos and videos were quite impressive.
The massive dust storm, also called a "haboob" in Arabic and around Arizona, is all locals could talk about Wednesday. It moved through the state around sundown Tuesday, halting airline flights, knocking out power to nearly 10,000 people, turning swimming pools into mud pits and caking cars with dirt.
It looked like a scene from the American "dust bowl" of the 1930s, or from modern-day middle-eastern desert regions.  Since it was Arizona, I bookmarked the links, planning a future post about a subsequent epidemic of coccidiomycosis.

Instead, what I encountered this week [in 2011] is an article in the Times reporting that some Arizona residents were offended that the storm was referred to as a haboob.
“I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob,” Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic...  “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

Diane Robinson of Wickenburg, Ariz., agreed, saying the state’s dust storms are unique and ought to be labeled as such. “Excuse me, Mr. Weatherman!” she said in a letter to the editor. “Who gave you the right to use the word ‘haboob’ in describing our recent dust storm? While you may think there are similarities, don’t forget that in these parts our dust is mixed with the whoop of the Indian’s dance, the progression of the cattle herd and warning of the rattlesnake as it lifts its head to strike.”
Fortunately, some rebuttals have been offered -
Meteorologists in the Southwest have used the term for decades,” said Randy Cerveny, a climatologist at Arizona State University. “The media usually avoid it because they don’t think anyone will understand it.”

Not everyone was put out by the use of the term. David Wilson of Goodyear, Ariz., said those who wanted to avoid Arabic terms should steer clear of algebra, zero, pajamas and khaki, as well. “Let’s not become so ‘xenophobic’ that we forget to remember that we are citizens of the world, nor fail to recognize the contributions of all cultures to the richness of our language,” he wrote.


  1. 'merica!

    not just algebra


  2. American English: mugging other languages in dark alleyways and going through their pockets for spare vocabulary since 1776.

    (British English has presumably been doing the same for much longer, but doesn't like to admit to it.)

    1. I love this description! I have high school kids who are learning English as a second language and bemoaning all the odd spelling/ pronunciation rules and exceptions in our language on a near-daily basis. I think they will enjoy this "rationale" immensely!

  3. "Who gave you the right to use the word ‘haboob’..."

    Alone and forgotten, the right to free speech...

    I kind of like dust storms now that I know this name for them. Anything with "boob" in the name has my undying affection.

  4. We've lived in Phoenix for 40 years. The dust storms are a normal part of the season and to be expected. And while the recent one was particularly large and dense, it was not unique in stature. But, in all that time, this was the first time in my recollection it was called a "haboob" in the general press. "Dust storm" has served perfectly well for forty years and it would seem it is only the press's desire for sensationalism that brought forth the arabic term.

  5. Poor Phoenix boobs. It's amazing the xenophobia exhibited by a population that's nearly 100% immigrants to a place that can't support even a fraction of the population without intense and expensive technological life support.

    Arizona is in "monsoon" season and that words seems to be just fine [from obsolete Dutch monssoen, from Portuguese monção, from Arabic mawsim season].

  6. BJN said, "...It's amazing the xenophobia exhibited by a population..."

    In the fifth largest city in the U.S., you'll always be able to find some people who will say something outrageous. I think it would have been more correct of you to say, "exhibited by some people."

    Those people are not the populace of Phoenix, or Arizona.

  7. Ed: :“Meteorologists in the Southwest have used the term for decades,” said Randy Cerveny, a climatologist at Arizona State University.:

    Decades. All those dust storms you experienced have been called "haboobs" by those who deal with weather for a living. Sensational? why?....new to media use? yup. But not new to weather.

  8. Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic... “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

    How do you think, Don Yonts, soldiers feel about you assigning them the ignorance you have in your head to all of them? Most of them have seen more of the world, Don Yonts, than you ever will and have a greater capacity for appreciating its many sights, sounds and tastes than your limited mind could ever comprehend.

  9. Thank you so much, Stan B - You made me laugh my drink out my nose! Freedom Storm = LMAO

  10. Many good comments here. Like the article says, it is not a new term, just recently being heard in general use. Maybe during WWII time people also wanted to call tsunamis freedom waves?

  11. We almost moved to AZ two years ago. Adding this to the list of why we did not. (dust in the air is tollerable, the white flight folks are not) Thank you.

  12. "Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic... “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”"

    Probably less upset than the folks in the Middle East felt about having the Arizona soldiers in their homeland.

  13. I wonder if, in Gilbert, AZ, Mr Yonts is known as 'La Boob' and took exception with folks confusing him with a whether event.

  14. I had hundreds of students who would have been eager to steer clear of algebra.

    Regarding coccidiomycosis (Valley Fever): there was a notable rise in cases from 2010 (11,883 cases) to 2011 (16,467) in Arizona. The increase actually began in 2009 when cases more than doubled from the previous year. (2008, 4768 cases; 2009, 10233 cases)
    From the CDC: "Although most cases of Valley fever are not associated with outbreaks, Valley fever outbreaks linked to a common source do occasionally occur, particularly after events that disturb large amounts of soil. Past outbreaks have occurred in military trainees, archeological workers, solar farm workers, and in people exposed to earthquakes and dust storms."


    Also, typo in the first paragraph. "Arizone" should be "Arizona"


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