Haboobs, Hurricanes, and Heat

Girl Scouts participate in the Weather Ready Nation Scout Program at the AMS Annual Meeting.
Girl Scouts participate in the Weather Ready Nation Scout program at the AMS Annual Meeting. (Photo credit: Annie Reiser, NOAA)

Other than a funny name, do you know what a haboob is?  The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of the Phoenix area do. They learned about the science behind weather and tips to stay safe during extreme weather events when they attended the Weather Ready Nation Scout Program, hosted by the America Meteorological Society (AMS) at the Phoenix Convention Center on January 4. Participating Scouts (ages 11–17) had the opportunity to earn the new Weather-Ready Nation Patch, as well as their respective Weather Merit Badges, in full.

Meteorologists from the National Weather Service (NWS), along with local media, atmospheric science researchers, emergency managers, and communicators taught workshop participants that haboobs are sudden monstrous dust storms that reduce visibility to nearly zero, delay flights, and leave thousands without electricity.

Last summer’s storm that descended on Phoenix created a thick wall of dust measuring between 8-10,000 ft in height and stretching across about 50 miles. The local Phoenix Scouts know that dust storms like these are a common summertime site in their area, and that every year they kill people who are caught unprepared. One goal of the Weather Ready Nation Scout Program is to teach the youth how to react and stay safe when these haboobs and other severe weather hit.

"So what do you do if you’re driving in a car and a dust storm of that size suddenly whips up?” asked instructors Erin Saffel from Arizona State University and Elliot  Shiben  from Virginia Tech, who volunteered to lead the “Weather Hazards and Safety” table. They presented the Scouts with a hands-on activity that gave them choices of what to do when faced with hazardous weather events, such as a haboob, a tornado, a thunderstorm, a hurricane, and extreme heat. In the case of a haboob, the correct answer is: “pull over to the side of the road and stop your car, keeping windows rolled up.” This keeps your air source breathable and helps to avoid pile-up accidents that occur when visibility drops suddenly.

NOAA/ESRL's Annie Reiser working with Bou Scouts at the event.
ESRL's Annie Reiser works with Boy Scouts at the event. (Photo credit: Erin Saffel, ASU)

The small learning groups were tasked to match slips with safety actions to the appropriate hazardous weather scenario on a magnetic white board. Lively discussion followed on what the Scouts and instructors personally experienced, as they learned from each other about how best to stay safe. Annie Reiser, of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), led the groups through a similar hands-on exercise that focused on the difference between weather watches and warnings and how to react when the NWS issues them.

Volunteers taught how to interpret symbols on a weather map, prepare emergency kit items, and determine ways families/communities can be prepared in the event of a weather emergency at their stations: What is Weather?; The Atmosphere in Motion; Clouds and the Water Cycle; Weather and Industry; Elements of Emergency Management; Emergency Kit; and Helping Others Be Weather-Ready.

The WRN Scout Program in Phoenix built on the success of the inaugural program held in Atlanta, Georgia, at last year’s 94th AMS Annual Meeting and was again a big hit. Its success this year means the continuation of another similar program next year in New Orleans at the 96th AMS Annual meeting.