Science behind dust storm formation

Published: May. 3, 2023 at 2:08 PM CDT|Updated: May. 3, 2023 at 2:22 PM CDT
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QUAD CITIES, Iowa/Ill. (KWQC) - Illinois State Police are still working to identify some of the victims killed in the pile-up on Interstate 55 Monday afternoon just south of Springfield, as a result of a dust storm.

The chain reaction crash involved 72 vehicles.

As of Wednesday morning, seven people have been killed and at least 37 people have been injured.

Illinois Department of Transportation closed portions of I-55 again Tuesday due to high winds and blowing dust.

Dust storms are typically seen in the plains and southwestern United States. They are uncommon in Iowa and Illinois, but do happen from time-to time.

The NOAA glossary defines a dust storm is classified as a severe weather condition characterized by strong winds and dust-filled air in an extensive area.

Not all dust storms are treated equal. But not all dust storms are treated equal. In order for a dust storm to form, strong winds must be present. Oftentimes dust storms are formed during thunderstorms as a result of outflow winds. These winds create a wall of dust known as a “haboob.”

The strong winds pull dust from the ground into the air, creating a wall of dust and debris that create hazardous travel conditions.

Dust storms can cause mechanical issues for air planes, and can cause breathing and health related issues.

While thunderstorms were not present in central Illinois on May 1, the dust storm was caused by 35 to 45 mph wind gusts kicking up dirt from freshly tilled and planted farm fields.

Three notable dust storms in Illinois occurred on May 6th, 1983, June third, 1990 and most recently May 17, 2017.