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Bedu

Bedu

PRONUNCIATION: BEH-doo

ALTERNATE NAMES: Bedouin

LOCATION: Deserts of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt

POPULATION: 45 million

LANGUAGE: Arabic

RELIGION: Islam

1 INTRODUCTION

The Western term Bedouin is actually a double plural; in the Arabic language the people we know as Bedouin refer to themselves as "Bedu" (also plural, but for simplicity it will be used here as both singular and plural). The definition of who is and is not a Bedu has become somewhat confused in recent times, as circumstances change and the traditional nomadic life of the desert herders has had to adapt. Generally speaking, a Bedu is an Arab who lives in one of the desert areas of the Middle East and raises camels, sheep, or goats. The Bedu traditionally believe they are the descendants of Shem, son of Noah, whose ancestor was Adam, the first man (see the book of Genesis, chapter 5, of the Bible).

The Arabian Peninsula historically has been the crossroads for trade as well as war. Bedu tribes often took strangers into their system and offered them the tribes' full protection and identity, thus intermingling with other peoples. Bedu are considered the "most indigenous" of modern Middle Eastern peoples, meaning they lived there before anyone else. The first appearance of nomadic peoples in the Arabian desert can be traced back as far as the third millennium bc.

2 LOCATION

Bedu territory covers the Arabian deserts of the Middle East, including parts of the modern states of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. Their entire range extends almost 1 million square miles (over 2.5 million square kilometers)about the size of western Europe. The exact number of Bedu living within this huge territory is unknown, but it is probably only about 4 to 5 million (the entire population of the Arab nations combined is about 300 million). It would be as if the population of London or New York City were living scattered all across Europethe population density is around 2.5 persons per square mile (less than 1 person per square kilometer). Probably no more than 10 percent of all Bedu still live in a purely traditional way: nomadic camel herders who follow the scattered, sporadic rainfall to find grazing for their animals, live off the products of those animals (milk, meat, hair, and skins), and use them as their sole form of transportation. (This article primarily focuses on the nomadic Bedu.) Life for the other 90 percent of the Bedu is similar to that of other urbanized Arab peoples.

The desert environment is harsh and does not lend itself easily to the support of human life. Much of the Bedu territory receives only 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain per year, and those 4 inches are scattered and unpredictable. Temperatures can go as high as 122° F (50° C) in the shade during the summer months, and as low as 32° F

(0° C) during the winter. At night, the temperature drops dramatically, plunging as much as 86° F (30° C) from daytime temperatures. The beginning of summer is often heralded by violent sandstorms and scorching winds.

The Bedu recognize four or five environmental seasons which vary in length depending on the amount of rainfall. In a good, rainy year, spring can last as long as six weeks (during February and March), whereas in a dry year there may be no spring at all, with winter simply shifting right into summer.

Despite these harsh conditions, a great deal of life animal and plant life manages to exist in the desert. The Arabian deserts are not all sand, although they do boast the highest sand dunes in the world (with some as high as 600 meters [2,000 feet]). Within Bedu territory are mountains, rock outcroppings, gravel and stony plains, wadis (dry riverbeds, which can become sudden torrents during a heavy rainfall), and stands of scrubby bushes or trees. A few days or weeks after a rainstorm, the desert floor is transformed into a carpet of grasses and brilliantly colored wildflowers. The Bedu travel in search of these green places in the desert.

3 LANGUAGE

The Bedu speak Arabic, but it is a very rich, stylized Arabic dialect (regional variety of a language). Bedu Arabic is somewhat comparable to the English of Shakespeare's day. As in all societies, the language is filled with words that pertain to the details of their life, making distinctions that are difficult for others to comprehend. The Bedu have many words for desert, and the differences between them are hard to define in English. A badiya is something open and uncoveredcountry in full view. A sahra is a vast open space that is generally level, defined in contrast to a "settled" area. To a non-Bedu, both these terms seem to describe the same sort of terrain. But to a Bedu, the distinction is clear. The Bedu also have many words for water, a scarce resource in the desert.

4 FOLKLORE

The two main types of Bedu folktales are realistic stories involving the familiar Bedu way of life, and fantasies that tell of love and include a woman as a main character. These two types of folktales generally fall into three categories: raiding stories, which celebrate heroism, strength, and courage; love stories, which describe the emotional highs and lows of star-crossed lovers and struggles to overcome obstacles to true love; and stories about thieves of the desert, which tell of robbery, murder, and treachery.

Some Bedu are superstitious, putting great stock in amulets and charms, lucky numbers (odd numbers are usually considered lucky), and spirits. Stones and designs in jewelry are believed to have magical qualities. Triangles, which represent hands, called khamsa, ward off the evil eye, as do blue stones such as turquoise or lapis lazuli; red stones will stop bleeding or reduce inflammation. Children, especially boys, are protected by charms hung around their necks or ankles and with ear studs containing what they believe are magical stones. Animals that prey on the Bedu's herds (such as wolves and wildcats) are considered the embodiment of evil, and in southern Arabia the camel is believed to be the direct descendant of the spirits of the desert.

5 RELIGION

Bedu are now Muslim (followers of Islam). At one time there were Jewish and Christian tribes, but none of them survive today. For the most part, Bedu do not follow Islamic duties and rules strictly. Given the Bedu's desert environment and demanding existence, many Islamic rituals are difficult to practice in the same manner as elsewhere. For example, ritual dry washings are utilized when there is insufficient water. The hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is an important ritual for the Bedu, and most parents take each of their children on his or her first pilgrimage at the age of seven or eight. Some Bedu construct a place of prayer, called a masjid or mashhad, shortly after setting up their tents by enclosing a small piece of land with pebbles. The morning and noon prayers are usually considered the most important of the five daily prayers of Islam.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

The most highly regarded Islamic festival among Bedu peoples is Eid al-Adha, the "feast of sacrifice," when the Bedu sacrifice a camel or sheep from their herd to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Since Islam uses a lunar calendar, the dates for Muslim holy days change each year on the Gregorian calendar.

Many Bedu do not fast during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which Muhammad received his first revelationscelebrated by complete fasting from dawn until dusk each day of the entire month). Therefore, the festival of Eid Al-Fitr (a three-day celebration to break the fast at the end of Ramadan) has little meaning. Bedu also do not pay much attention to the celebration commemorating Muhammad's birthday or his flight from Mecca; in fact, some Bedu do not even know the dates for those holy days in any given year.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

Some Bedu tribes require that when girls reach puberty, they must cover their hair and wear a mask or veil over the face when in public (whenever anyone but immediate family is present). Girls look forward to wearing these head and face coverings as a sign of maturity, and many design them so as to be alluring and provocative. They use their masks and veils to flirt.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

Two things shape the interactions of Bedu peoplethe Arab tradition of hospitality, and the Bedu code of honor, or sharaf. These customs have been shaped by the extreme conditions of desert nomadism. Survival as small groups of wanderers in the harsh desert required tremendous cooperation. A guest fed in one's own tent today may be the one who can provide food tomorrow. Passersby traditionally exchanged formal greetings with the families in the tents they passed, and were asked for any news. The polite reply was to say one has no news or only good news. The passersby were then invited into the men's side of the tent for coffee and tea, served in a ritual way. (It is still considered polite to drink at least three cups before wobbling your glass to show that you do not want it refilled.) Guests were assured of food and shelter for three and one-third days, and then protection for another three days after leaving the tent, that being considered the length of time it takes for all traces of the host's food to pass through the guest's body. Anyone who even exchanged greetings, whether they came into the tent or not, was considered a guest entitled to the host's protection for the customary three days.

Women are protected in the Bedu code of honor. A man who is not closely related to a woman is not allowed to touch her in any way, not even so much as to brush his fingers against hers while handing her something. To do so is to dishonor her. Likewise, in some tribes, if a woman brings dishonor to herself, she shames her family because honor is held not by individuals but by whole families. The loss of a woman's honor, her ird, is extremely serious among the Bedu.

Another important element of Bedu honor is as-sime, giving up something so that a weaker person will benefit. Children are trained in the code of honor and tradition of hospitality from a very early age. By the time they are seven or eight years old, boys and girls know well what is expected of them and can behave with adult dignity when called upon.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

The traditional Bedu live either in tents made of woven goat hair, known as a bait sharar (house of hair), palm-frond shacks called barasti, or in the shelter of a few bushes or trees, on which they may drape blankets for more protection from the wind. Bedu adapted to more modern customs live more settled lives in villages, or take advantage of technological items such as portable cabins.

A tent houses an extended family of around ten people, and it is divided into at least two sectionsthe men's side, or alshigg ; and the women's side, or al-mahram. Cooking is done and possessions are stored on the women's side, and guests are entertained on the men's side. The men's and women's sections are divided either by a woven curtain called a sahah or gata'ah, or by a wooden mat called a shirb held together by wool woven around the canes in geometric patterns. These tent dividers are frequently beautiful works of art.

Bedu families stay close to their permanent wells during the dry summer months, then migrate to better grazing areas during the winter. The Bedu can travel as much as 1,600 miles (3,000 kilometers) or more in a year. Traditional Bedu ride camels. Some modern Bedu have acquired trucks and other four-wheel-drive vehicles to replace the camel as transportation. Each tribe has its own territory, or dirah, but as modernization encroaches on their range, the Bedu have had to cross over each other's territories. However, each tribe still knows its dirah and the boundaries of those of other tribes.

The life of Bedu in oil-rich Arab nations is not quite as extreme, as tanker trucks often bring water to outlying areas. Mobile medical units have made Western medicine more available to the Bedu, but most only turn to them when folk medicine fails. Traditional Bedu beliefs held that physical health is related to the actions of spirits and devils. The Bedu traditionally put red-hot coals to their skin to open a door for an evil spirit to exit the body at a place where it was causing trouble (such as between the eyes in the case of headaches). Herbal medicine (teas, poultices, etc.) is widely used, as are charms and amulets. If all else fails, including folk and Western medicine, the Bedu may turn to sahar, practitioners of alternative medicine who have been outlawed by most of the governments in the area but who continue to provide their services.

10 FAMILY LIFE

Bedu society is based on complicated lineages that govern the formation of tribes and family clans. Bedu introduce themselves by giving their name, then naming two generations of male ancestors, and then stating their tribe: for example, "Suhail son of Salem son of Muhammad of the Bait Kathir." Women are also known as the daughters of their fathers and grandfathers, and they keep their family names even if they marry into a different tribe.

Bedu live in extended families made up of paternal cousins. A group of families who are related to each other make up a fakhadh (literally, "thigh"), which means a clan "of the same root" or "part of the whole." A group of fakhadhs constitutes a tribe, called a kabila or ashira, though these words may also refer to subsections of a larger tribe. Tribes vary widely in size and are constantly changing through marriage or territorial needs for grazing. A small tribe that has to move into the territory of a larger tribe to feed its herds may become absorbed by the larger tribe. Later, if the original small tribe has gained enough members and/or wealth, it may strike out on its own again.

Every group of Bedu has a sheikh, or leader. The sheikh always comes from the same family line within each group, but it is not necessarily the oldest son who takes over when the father dies. The post is given to the male family member most qualified for the job. A sheikh leads by mutual agreement, not by absolute will, so all members of the group must respect the sheikh in order for him to lead them effectively.

Marriage is more of a social contract among the Bedu than a love match. The bride and groom are usually first cousins. Women marry between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, while men marry between the ages of eighteen and thirty. The wedding is essentially a process of customary negotiations after which the bride is escorted to the groom's tent. Divorce is just as simple: a man simply states in front of witnesses that he wants a divorce. A woman can initiate a divorce by moving back to her parents' tent. If she refuses to return to her husband's tent with him, he will grant her a divorce. Siblings are very close to and protective of one another; brothers fiercely guard their sisters' honor.

11 CLOTHING

The primary article of clothing for both Bedu men and women is the dishdasha, a long gown worn by most Arabs that covers the body from the base of the neck to the wrists and ankles. Men wear the dishdasha as an outer garment with baggy trousers called sirwal underneath (some modern Bedu men now wear sweatpants instead), while women wear the dishdasha as an undergarment beneath a larger, looser dress called a thob, which is almost always black. Women also wear baggy trousers, which are tight at the ankle and embroidered, under their dresses. Bedu men wear some sort of headcloth, the design of which varies from tribe to tribe. In most tribes, adult women wear veils over their hair and either veils or masks on their faces. Both men and women use kuhl (kohl, a black powder made from lustrous antimony) to accent their eyes. It reduces glare from the harsh desert sun and is believed to help repel flies as well. Bedu traditionally walk barefoot.

Women love jewelry and wear a lot of it; they may also wear the family's wealth as jewelry (which will then be completely safe since, according to the code of honor, women cannot be touched). Older women may have tattoos, which were believed to enhance their beauty, but that tradition is dying out, and very few younger women wear them. (It is considered effeminate for a man to have a tattoo.) Men wear silver or gold belts with elaborate curved daggers called khanja strapped to them. Belts designed for carrying bullets are now popular, and nomadic Bedu men are rarely seen without their rifles.

12 FOOD

Bedu cooking emphasizes quantity rather than style. The traditional Bedu diet consisted mainly of camel milk, drunk cold or hot, boiled with bread, or cooked with rice. Meat, usually goat's meat, was an occasional luxury. Bedu along coastal areas also eat fish. A thin, flat bread is cooked over the fire on a curved metal sheet. The Bedu also hunt for meat to supplement their diet. They traditionally used trained falcons captured in the fall and released in the spring to hunt desert hares and foxes or migratory birds. Many Bedu hunt with a Saluki, a breed of dog related to the greyhound. Although herding dogs are considered unclean and are never allowed to enter the living area, Salukis are treated with a great deal of affection and live in the tent with their masters.

13 EDUCATION

Traditional Bedu education consists of training in the skills necessary to live the life of the nomadic desert camel herder. It takes years to learn how care for a herd of camels and a family in the harsh desert environment. Although some Bedu parents are beginning to provide a more formal education for their children in schools, this makes it difficult for those children to learn important desert skills, such as hunting, ropeweaving, camel herding, camel riding, camel milking, camel breeding, camel tracking, and the rituals of entertaining guests for Bedu boys; and weaving, embroidery, cooking, cleaning, setting up and taking down camp, tent-making, and herding for Bedu girls.

Reading and writing are not very essential for traditional Bedu society. However, reading the Koran (or Qur'anthe sacred text of Islam) is very important, and there are always some members of the family, including women, who must know how to read and write. Bedu can recite poetry and tell stories by memory, however, and recognize all of the hundreds of wasm camel brands of their own tribe and neighboring tribes. They can also interpret the signs left on the hard desert ground by people and animals who have passed that way.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

Poetry is considered the highest art in Bedu society; it is the outlet for emotional expressions otherwise restricted by the code of honor. The rabab, the one-stringed Bedu violin, is often played to accompany the recitation of poetic verse. Other literary genres, all oral, in the Bedu world are the qissa (folk tale), qasid (ode), riddles and proverbs, the murafa'a (pleading one's case before the magistrate), and the discussions of the majalis sessions (gatherings of family to pass on wisdom and traditions to the younger members).

15 EMPLOYMENT

Herding camels during the winter migration is a full-time job for at least two family members, and usually requires two others part-time. Men and boys do most of the herding, but if there are not enough sons to do the job, teenage girls will help. In a family with no sons, daughters take on all the work, including herding, entertaining guests, and driving the vehicles (if they have any). Setting up and taking down camp is the women's job, along with cooking, cleaning, weaving, and sewing. Pregnant women generally work right up to the time of delivery, and then go back to work as soon as possible after giving birth. Nomadic Bedu life is full of chores: collecting firewood, filling water drums, obtaining and preparing food, taking camels to pasture in the morning and bringing them back to camp at night, milking the camels, moving camp, and making and repairing tents and clothing.

Many Bedu have given up full-time nomadic herding to take on wage-earning jobs. In many Middle Eastern countries, Bedu men are an important part of the military and are well paid. In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the armed forces are composed almost entirely of Bedu. In Israel, they serve as trackers and game wardens to protect endangered desert species.

16 SPORTS

Nomadic Bedu do not have much time for sports, but they do enjoy camel-racing. They train their camels to trot (run by picking up alternate feet, rather than both feet on the same side). This makes them easier to ride at high speeds. Hunting is done purely for sport by wealthier Bedu, though it is a necessity for poorer families.

17 RECREATION

Their harsh nomadic way of life prevents the Bedu from having much time for recreation. Winter is the most sociable time for the Bedu, with many clans and tribes gathered in good grazing areas, rather than stuck by their isolated wells in the dry summer. At night, they gather to recite stories in verse around the campfire. Other times, the women may sing to the men in an informal performance called a summejr.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Bedu women weave sheep's wool, goat or camel hair, or cotton into textiles with geometric designs, sometimes including stylized representations of everyday objects such as coffee pots, scissors, or camels. The Bedu traditionally put no border on their designs. They let the design go all the way to the edge of the cloth to represent the infinite horizon of the desert. Natural dyes were traditionally used, producing muted earth tones, reds, and blues. They are difficult and time-consuming to make, so many Bedu women now purchase commercial dyes that create brighter colors.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The modern creation of national borders and the sprawl of cities and cultivated areas into the desert has reduced the Bedu's range and forced many to become only semi-nomadic, settling in villages for part of the year and returning to their herds in the desert for only a few months. The Bedu lost their biggest vocation and source of much of their wealth and power when trucks and airplanes replaced camels as the main transport in the Middle East. Bedu parents often settle near villages to take advantage of available public education for their children. The children then are separated from their ancestors' traditional lifestyle and can no longer survive in the desert, so they must take wage-earning jobs.

These changes have altered the traditional Bedu way of life and threaten their existence as a distinct people.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jabbur, Jibrail S. The Bedouins and the Desert: Aspects of Nomadic Life in the Arab East. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Keohane, Alan. Bedouin: Nomads of the Desert. London: Kyle Cathie Ltd., 1994.

WEBSITES

ArabNet. Saudi Arabia. [Online Available http://www.arab.net/saudi/saudi_contents.html, 1998.

World Travel Guide. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/sa/gen.html, 1998.

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Dust Storms

Dust storms

Dust storms are windstorms that severely blow dust clouds across a large area in arid or semi-arid regions. Dust storms are different from dust devils, which are small atmospheric dust-filled vortices created by differences in surface heating during fair, hot weather . Dust storms can cause poor air quality, decrease visibility, can be hazardous to human and animal health, can interfere with telecommunications, erode away the topsoil, block sunlight, and even can greatly influence not only local, but regional and global weather patterns by accumulating and transporting dust in the atmosphere. For example, after a dust storm in the Sahara, dust can move up to high altitudes, and can be carried hundreds or even thousands of miles away by air streams, causing an illness destroying Caribbean coral reefs , resulting in asthma outbreaks in the

United States, or providing good nutrients to the Amazonian rain forests . Another example is the dust storm in 2001 that began in Mongolia and gathered industrial pollution from China, then caused a haze in a quarter of the United States mainland.

Although dust storms occur naturally, some anthropogenic activity such as removal of vegetation or overgrazing can increase the amount of sediment available for dust storm events. An example of a prolonged impact of dust storms is the historical event called Dust Bowl in the 1930s, which was a disaster both with ecological and societal consequences. The Dust Bowl took place in the southern Great Plains of the United States, including parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, and was caused by the combination of poor agricultural practices and years of sustained drought . Extreme weather and artificially eroded soils resulted in terrible dust storms alternating with drought, heat, blizzards and floods . The land dried up because the original grasslands holding the soil in place were either plowed, then planted with wheat for many years, or because of overgrazing. Consequently, great clouds of dust and sand carried by the wind covered the area, sometimes even reaching as far as the Atlantic coast. In many places 810 cm (34 in) of topsoil was blown away. In 1935, programs for soil conservation and for rehabilitation of the Dust Bowl started, including seeding large areas in grass, crop rotation , contour plowing, terracing, and strip planting. Accordingly, subsequent droughts in the region had a much less impact, because the available dust for dust storms was greatly reduced by improved agricultural practices.

See also Desert and desertification; Erosion

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sandstorm

sandstorm, strong dry wind blowing over the desert that raises and carries along clouds of sand or dust often so dense as to obscure the sun and reduce visibility almost to zero; also known as a duststorm. Such a wind is usually the result of convection currents created by intense heating of the ground. The wind is strong enough to move dunes, and it often interferes with travel, sometimes obliterating roads in flat dry regions such as those of the W United States. The simoom (or simoon) is the dust- and sand-laden desert wind of N Africa and Arabia that contributes largely to the atmospheric dust over Europe; evidence of the dust from simoon winds has also been found on the seafloor at considerable distances from shore. The haboob is a sandstorm prevalent in the region of Sudan around Khartoum. Sandstorms, the leading edges of which often appear as solid walls of dust as much as 5,000 ft (1,525 m) high, also occur, although less frequently, in the SW United States. One that occurred near Tucson, Arizona, on July 16, 1971, was extensively documented by meteorologists. Similar duststorms from windborne particles are evident on the planet Mars and are thought to be seasonal.

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dust storm

dust storm A storm in which dust is blown up from the ground. It occurs when the wind speed exceeds a critical value (commonly 24–48 km/h) that depends on quantity of dust present and the size, shape, dampness, and specific gravity of the dust particles. Dust may be carried to a height of 1500–1800 m or more. The haboob and khamsin are types of dust storm.

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sandstorm

sand·storm / ˈsan(d)ˌstôrm/ • n. a strong wind carrying clouds of sand with it, esp. in a desert.

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sandstorm

sandstorm Phenomenon in which sand and dust particles are uplifted, often to great altitude, by turbulent winds. Visibility is greatly reduced.

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dust storm

dust storm • n. a strong, turbulent wind that carries clouds of fine dust, soil, and sand over a large area.

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sandstorm

sandstorm The lifting of sand and dust particles, often to great altitude, by turbulent winds. Visibility is greatly reduced.

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Dust storm

Dust storm A wind carrying sufficient dust for visibility to be reduced to less than 1 km.

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sandstorm

sandstormconform, corm, dorm, form, forme, haulm, lukewarm, Maugham, misinform, norm, outperform, perform, shawm, storm, swarm, transform, underperform, warm •landform • platform • cubiform •fungiform, spongiform •aliform • bacilliform •cuneiform, uniform •variform • vitriform • cruciform •unciform • retiform • multiform •oviform • triform • microform •chloroform • cairngorm • sandstorm •barnstorm •brainstorm, rainstorm •windstorm • snowstorm • firestorm •thunderstorm

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Bedu

Bedu

PRONUNCIATION: BEH-doo
ALTERNATE NAMES: Bedouin
LOCATION: Deserts of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt
POPULATION: 4 million to 5 million
LANGUAGE: Arabic
RELIGION: Islam

INTRODUCTION

The Western term Bedouin is actually a double plural; in their own language (Arabic), Bedouin refer to themselves as "Bedu" (also plural, but for simplicity it will be used here as both singular and plural). The definition of who is and is not a Bedu has become somewhat confused in recent times, as circumstances change and the traditional nomadic life of the desert herders had to adapt. Generally speaking, a Bedu is an Arab who lives in one of the desert areas of the Middle East and raises camels, sheep, or goats. The Bedu traditionally believe they are the descendants of Shem, son of Noah, whose ancestor was Adam, the first man. Bedu society is based on complicated lineages that govern the formation of tribes and family clans. Bedu introduce themselves by giving their name, then naming two generations of male ancestors, and then stating their tribe: for example, "Suhail son of Salem son of Muhammad of the Bait Kathir." Women are also known as the daughters of their fathers and grandfathers, and they keep their family names even if they marry into a different tribe.

Genetically speaking, the Bedu are Semitic in origin, of the Caucasian race. The Arabian Peninsula historically has been the crossroads for trade as well as war. Bedu tribes often took strangers into their system as mawali and offered them the tribes' full protection and identity, thus intermingling with other peoples. Where the Bedu have had little contact and, therefore, little intermingling with other races, their skin complexion is fair where it is not exposed to the sun. Bedu are considered the "most indigenous" of modern Middle Eastern peoples, meaning they lived there before anyone else. At the time when Arabs were first distinguished from other races, they were desert nomads. The first appearance of nomadic peoples in the Arabian desert can be traced back as far as the third millennium BC.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

Bedu territory covers the Arabian deserts of the Middle East, including parts of the Palestinian territories and the modern states of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. Their entire range extends over 2.5 million sq km (1 million sq mi), which is about the size of western Europe. It is difficult to count the exact number of Bedu living within this huge territory. Most estimates figure that the Bedu population is about 4 million to 5 million, which puts the population density at less than 1 person per sq km (around 2.5 persons per sq mi). It is estimated that approximately 10% of all Bedu continue to live in a purely traditional way: nomadic camel herders who follow the scattered, sporadic rainfall to find grazing for their animals, live off the products of those animals (milk, meat, hair, and skins), and use them as their sole form of transportation. This article primarily focuses on the nomadic Bedu. Life for the other 90% of the Bedu is similar to that of other urbanized Arab peoples.

The desert environment is harsh and does not lend itself easily to the support of human life. Much of the Bedu territory receives only four inches of rain per year, and those four inches are scattered and unpredictable. Temperatures can go as high as 50¡C (122¡F) in the shade during the summer months, and as low as 0¡C (32¡F) during the winter. At night, the temperature drops dramatically, plunging as much as 30¡C (54¡F) from daytime temperatures. The beginning of summer is often heralded by violent sandstorms and scorching winds. The Bedu recognize four or five "seasons" that vary in length depending on the amount of rainfall. In a good, rainy year, spring can last as long as six weeks (during February and March), whereas in a dry year there may be no spring at all, with winter simply shifting right into summer.

Despite these harsh conditions, a great deal of life manages to exist in the desert. Wolves, foxes, wildcats, gazelles, hares, small rodents, reptiles, and many insects and spiders make their homes there, and flocks of migratory birds pass through on their way from summering to wintering grounds (and vice versa). A variety of plant species have also adapted to the extreme temperatures and lack of water, developing long roots and spiny leaves, water storage capacities, and seeds that will last hundreds of years in a dormant stage until conditions become right for sprouting. The Arabian deserts are not all sand, either, although they do boast the highest sand dunes on Earth, with some as high as 600 m (2,000 ft). Within Bedu territory are mountains, rock outcroppings, gravel and stony plains, wadis (dry riverbeds, which can become sudden torrents during a heavy rainfall), and stands of scrubby bushes or trees. A few days or weeks after a rainstorm, the desert floor is transformed into a carpet of grasses and brilliantly colored wildflowers. The Bedu travel in search of these green places in the desert.

LANGUAGE

The Bedu speak Arabic, but it is a very rich, stylized Arabic. Bedu Arabic is somewhat comparable to Shakespearean English. As is the case with many indigenous peoples, the Bedu language is filled with words that pertain to the details of their life, making distinctions that are difficult for others to comprehend. Just as the Inuit people have many words for snow, the Bedu have more than one word for desert, and the differences between them are hard to define in English. A badiya is something open and uncovered, a country in full view. A sahra is a vast open space that is generally level, defined in contrast to a "settled" area. The Bedu also have many words for water, which was historically far more important as a scarce resource in the desert.

FOLKLORE

The two main types of Bedu folk tales are realistic stories involving the familiar Bedu way of life and fantasies that tell of love and include a woman as a main character. These two types of folk tales generally fall into three categories: raiding stories, which celebrate heroism, strength, and courage; love stories, which revel in the emotional highs and lows of star-crossed lovers and struggles to overcome obstacles to true love; and stories about thieves of the desert, which tell of robbery, murder, and treachery.

Some Bedu are superstitious, putting great stock in amulets and charms, lucky numbers (odd numbers are usually considered lucky), and spirits. Stones and designs in jewelry have magical qualities. Triangles, which represent hands, called khamsa, ward off the evil eye, as do blue stones, such as turquoise or lapis lazuli; red stones will stop bleeding or reduce inflammation. Children, especially boys, are protected by charms hung around their necks or ankles and with ear studs containing magical stones. Many adult Bedu still have the holes in their earlobes from these magic ear studs. Animals that prey on the Bedu herds (e.g., wolves, wildcats) are considered the embodiment of evil, and in southern Arabia the camel is believed to be the direct descendant of the spirits of the desert.

RELIGION

Bedu are now Muslim. At one time there were Jewish and Christian tribes, but none of them survive today. For the most part, Bedu do not follow Islamic duties and rules strictly. Given the Bedu desert environment and demanding existence, many Islamic rituals are difficult to practice in the same manner as elsewhere. For example, ritual dry washings are utilized when there is insufficient water. The Hadj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is an important ritual for the Bedu, and most parents take each of their children on his or her first pilgrimage at the age of seven or eight. Some Bedu construct a place of prayer, called a masjid or mashhad, shortly after setting up their tents by enclosing a small piece of land with pebbles. The morning and noon prayers are usually considered the most important of the five daily prayers of Islam.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

The most highly regarded Islamic festival among Bedu peoples is Ayd al-Adha, the "feast of sacrifice," when the Bedu sacrifice a camel or sheep from their herd to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. (Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, the dates for Muslim holy days change each year on the Gregorian calendar.) Given the strong identification with lineage and kinship in Bedu society, the rite of honoring those who have died is taken very seriously.

Because many Bedu do not fast during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which Muhammad received his first revelations, celebrated by complete fasting from dawn until dusk each day of the entire month), the festival of Ayd Al-Fitr (a three-day celebration to break the fast at the end of Ramadan) has little meaning. Bedu also do not pay much attention to the celebration of the prophet Muhammad's birthday or his hegira (Muhammad's flight from Mecca); in fact, some Bedu do not even know the dates for those holy days in any given year.

RITES OF PASSAGE

In some tribes, when girls reach puberty they must then cover their hair and wear a mask or veil over their faces when in public (which, in Bedu terms, means whenever anyone but immediate family is present). Girls look forward to wearing these head and face coverings as a sign of maturity, and many design them so as to be alluring and provocative. They use their masks and veils to great effect in flirtations.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

Two things shape the interactions of Bedu people: the Arab tradition of hospitality and the Bedu code of honor, or sharaf. These things themselves are shaped by the extreme conditions of desert nomadism. Survival as small groups of wanderers in the unforgiving desert required tremendous cooperation. The guest fed in one's own tent today may be the one who can provide food tomorrow. Passersby traditionally exchanged formal greetings with the families in the tents they passed and were asked for any news. The polite reply was to say one has no news or only good news. The passersby were then invited into the men's side of the tent for coffee and tea, served in a ritual way. It is considered polite to drink at least three cups before wobbling your glass to show that you do not want it refilled. Guests were assured of food and shelter for three and one-third days and then protection for another three days after leaving the tent, that being considered the length of time it takes for all traces of the host's food to pass through the guest's body. (Before a guest departed, the host burned incense in a special crucible called a madran or mijmar, and the guest perfumed his headscarf and beard with the smoke.) Anyone who even exchanged greetings, whether they came into the tent or not, was considered a guest entitled to the host's protection for the customary three days.

Women are inviolate in the Bedu code of honor. No man who is not intimately related to a woman may touch her in any way, not even so much as to brush his fingers against hers while handing her something. To do so is to dishonor her, and the traditional punishment for that was death. Likewise, in some tribes, if a woman brings dishonor to herself, she shames her family, because honor is held not by individuals but by whole families. According to old Bedu custom, if a woman committed any shameful conduct, her father or brother traditionally had the right, and was expected, to kill her immediately. Even in wars or raids, women were not touched. Raiding parties left enough supplies in the raided camp to support the women and children there. The loss of a woman's honor, her ird, is extremely serious in the Bedu code.

Long-time warriors, the Bedu have developed a very clear idea of what constitutes a fair fight and have strict rules governing the conduct of wars and raids. Another important element of Bedu honor is as-sime, giving up something so that a weaker person will benefit. Children are trained in the code of honor and tradition of hospitality from a very early age. By the time they are seven or eight years old, boys and girls know well what is expected of them and can behave with adult dignity when called upon.

LIVING CONDITIONS

The traditional Bedu live either in tents made of woven goat hair, known as a bait sharar ("house of hair"), palm-frond shacks called barasti, or in the shelter of a few bushes or trees, on which they may drape blankets for more protection from the wind. Bedu adapted to more modern customs live more settled lives in villages or take advantage of technological items such as "portacabins."

Bedu tents vary in size, depending on the number and wealth of the people living in them. The smallest are two-room tents, about 4 to 5 m (12 to 16 ft) long, and the largest can be anywhere up to 45 m (150 ft) or more in length. Most tents are about 2 m (6 ft) high. Larger tents are harder to move, so nomadic Bedu tents tend to fall somewhere between those two extremes. A tent houses an extended family of around 10 people, and it is divided into at least two sections—the men's side, or al-shigg; and the women's side, or al-mahram. Cooking is done and possessions are stored on the women's side, unless the tent has a third section for those purposes. Guests are entertained on the men's side, and the coffee and tea utensils and a fire for heating the water are located there. The men's and women's sections are divided either by a woven curtain called a sahah or gata'ah, or by a wooden mat called a shirb held together by wool woven around the canes in geometric patterns. These tent dividers are frequently beautiful works of art.

Bedu families stay close to their permanent wells during the dry summer months, then migrate to better grazing areas during the winter. The Bedu can travel as much as 3,000 km (1,600 mi) or more in a year. Traditional Bedu ride camels, which move by lifting both legs on one side at the same time, giving them a seesaw motion that requires a great deal of balance to ride. Some modern Bedu have acquired trucks and other four-wheel-drive vehicles to replace the camel as transportation. Each tribe has its own territory, or dirah, but as modernization encroaches on their range, the Bedu have had to cross over each other's territories much more frequently, and now it is commonplace to do so. However, each tribe still knows its dirah and the boundaries of those of other tribes.

The life of Bedu in oil-rich Arab nations is not quite as harrowing, as tanker trucks often bring water to outlying areas. Mobile medical units have made Western medicine more available to the Bedu, but most only turn to them when folk medicine fails. Traditional Bedu beliefs held that physical health is related to the actions of spirits and devils. The Bedu traditionally put red-hot coals to their skin to open a door for an evil spirit to exit the body at a place where it was causing trouble (e.g., between the eyes in the case of headaches). Herbal medicine (teas, poultices, etc.) is widely used, as are charms and amulets. Today, herbal treatments are no more considered "magical" among the Bedu than acupuncture is in the West. If all else fails, including folk and Western medicine, the Bedu may turn to sahar, practitioners of alternative medicine who have been outlawed by most state governments but who continue to provide their services.

FAMILY LIFE

Bedu live in extended families made up of paternal cousins. A group of families who are related to each other make up a fakhadh (literally, "thigh"), which means a clan "of the same root" or "part of the whole." A group of fakhadhs constitutes a tribe, called a kabila or ashira, though these words may also refer to subsections of a larger tribe. A group of tribes is a "confederation." Tribes vary widely in size and are constantly changing through marriage or territorial needs for grazing. A small tribe that has to move into the territory of a larger tribe to feed its herds may become absorbed by the larger tribe. Later, if the original small tribe has gained enough members and/or wealth, it may strike out on its own again.

Every group of Bedu has a sheikh, or leader. The sheikh always comes from the same family line within each group, but it is not necessarily the oldest son who takes over when the father dies. The post is given to the male family member most qualified for the job. A sheikh leads by consensus, not by absolute will, so all members of the group must respect the sheikh in order for him to lead them effectively.

Marriage is more of a social contract among the Bedu than a love match, although love often enters into it and sexuality within marriage is greatly enjoyed and celebrated by both men and women. The bride and groom are usually first cousins. Women marry between the ages of 16 and 22, while men marry between the ages of 18 and 30. The wedding is accomplished without much ceremony. It is essentially a process of customary negotiations after which the bride is escorted to the groom's tent. Divorce is just as simple: a man simply states in front of witnesses that he wants a divorce. A woman can initiate a divorce by moving back to her parents' tent. If she refuses to return to her husband's tent with him, he will grant her a divorce. Women give birth without much fuss as well. Siblings are very close to and protective of one another; brothers in particular guard their sisters' honor fiercely. Incest is forbidden and is virtually unknown.

CLOTHING

The primary article of clothing for both Bedu men and women is the dishdasha, a long gown worn by most Arabs that covers the body from the base of the neck to the wrists and ankles. Men wear the dishdasha as an outer garment with baggy trousers called sirwal underneath (some modern Bedu men wear sweatpants now instead), while women wear the dishdasha as an underdress beneath a larger, looser dress called a thob, which is almost always black. Women also wear baggy trousers, which are tight at the ankle and embroidered, under their dresses. Bedu men wear some sort of headcloth, the design of which varies from tribe to tribe. Adult women wear veils over their hair and either veils or masks on their faces (in most tribes). Both men and women use kuhl (kohl, a black powder made from lustrous antimony) to accent their eyes. It reduces glare from the harsh desert sun and is believed to help repel flies as well. Bedu traditionally walk barefoot.

Women love jewelry and wear a lot of it; they may also wear the family's wealth as jewelry, which will then be completely safe since, according to the code of honor, women cannot be touched. Older women may have tattoos, which were believed to enhance their beauty, but that tradition is dying out, and very few younger women wear them. It is considered effeminate for a man to have a tattoo. Men wear silver or gold belts with elaborate curved daggers called khanja strapped to them. Belts designed for carrying bullets are now popular, and nomadic Bedu men are rarely seen without their rifles.

FOOD

Bedu cooking emphasizes quantity rather than style. The traditional Bedu diet consisted mainly of camel milk, served cold or hot, boiled with bread, or cooked with rice. Meat, usually goat's meat, was an occasional luxury. Bedu along coastal areas also eat fish. Thin, flat bread is cooked over the fire on a curved metal sheet. The Bedu also hunt for meat to supplement their diet. They traditionally used trained falcons captured in the fall and released in the spring to hunt desert hares and foxes or migratory birds. Many Bedu hunt with a breed of dog called saluki, which is somewhat like an elegant greyhound. Although herding dogs are considered unclean and are never allowed to enter the living area, salukis are treated with a great deal of affection and live in the tent with their masters.

EDUCATION

Traditional Bedu education consists of training in the skills necessary to live the life of the nomadic desert camel herder. It takes years to learn how to take care of a herd of camels and a family in the harsh desert environment. Although some Bedu parents are beginning to provide a more formal education for their children in schools, this makes it difficult for those children to learn their desert skills. These skills are hunting, rope-weaving, camel-herding, -riding, -milking, and -breeding, tracking, and the rituals of entertaining guests for Bedu boys and weaving of all sorts, embroidery, cooking, cleaning, setting up and taking down camp, tent-making, and herding for Bedu girls. Traditional Bedu society was largely oral, without much need for reading and writing. However, reading the Quran is very important, and there are always some members of the family, including women, who must know how to read and write. Bedu can recite poetry and tell stories by memory, however, and recognize all of the hundreds of wasm, the camel brands of their own tribe and neighboring tribes. They can also "read" the signs left on the hard desert ground by people and animals that have passed that way.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Poetry is considered the highest art in Bedu society; it is the outlet for emotional expressions otherwise restricted by the code of honor. The rabab, the one-stringed Bedu violin, is often played to accompany the recitation of poetic verse. Other literary genres, all oral, in the Bedu world are the qissa (folk tale), qasid (ode), riddles and proverbs, the murafa'a (pleading one's case before the magistrate), and the discussions of the majalis sessions (gatherings of family to pass on wisdom and traditions to the younger members).

Many Arab nations and even many Zionists within the modern nation-state of Israel regard the image of the Bedu as important to their cultural identity. For many, the Bedu shepherd is regarded as a bridge to the past. That link to the past is essential to nations that encompass ancient lands, peoples, and traditions but are relatively new as modern states.

WORK

Herding camels during the winter migration is a full-time job for at least two family members and usually requires two others part-time. Men and boys do most of the herding, but if there are not enough sons to do the job, teenage girls will help out. In a family with no sons, daughters take on all the work, including herding, entertaining guests, driving the vehicles (if they have any), and so on. Setting up and taking down camp is the women's job, plus all of the cooking, cleaning, weaving, and sewing. Pregnant women generally work right up to the time of delivery and then go back to work as soon as possible after giving birth. Nomadic Bedu life is a constant round of chores: collecting firewood, filling water drums, obtaining and preparing food, taking camels to pasture in the morning, and bringing them back to camp at night, milking the camels, moving camp, making and repairing tent cloths and clothing, and so on.

Many Bedu have given up full-time nomadic herding to take on wage-earning jobs. In many Middle Eastern countries, Bedu men form important elements in the military and are well compensated. In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the armed forces are composed almost entirely of Bedu. In Israel, they have also been enlisted as trackers and wardens to protect endangered desert species.

SPORTS

Nomadic Bedu do not have much time for sports, but they do enjoy camel racing and spend quite a bit of time and energy breeding fast, light camels and even training them to pick up alternate feet, rather than both feet on the same side at the same time, to make them easier to ride at high speeds. Hunting is done purely for sport by wealthier Bedu, though it is a necessity for poorer families.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Winter is a sociable time for the Bedu, with many clans and tribes gathered in good grazing areas, rather than stuck by their isolated wells in the dry summer. At night, they gather to recite stories in verse around the campfire. Other times, the women may sing to the men in an informal performance called a summejr. Given the harsh realities of nomadic Bedu life, there is not much time for more recreation than this.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Textiles woven by Bedu women are the most important product and one of the oldest crafts of Bedu society. The ground loom used by Bedu women is shown in an Egyptian fresco dating to 2200 BC. The women weave sheep's wool, goat or camel hair, or cotton into geometric designs, sometimes including stylized representations of everyday objects such as coffee pots, scissors, or camels. The Bedu traditionally put no border on their designs, instead letting the design go all the way to the edge of the cloth to reflect the infinite horizon of the desert, which leads one's mind to reflect on the infinity of God. Natural dyes were traditionally used, producing muted earth tones, reds, and blues, but they are difficult and time-consuming to make, so many Bedu women now purchase commercial dyes that create brighter colors. Other Bedu crafts are basketry and weaving palm fronds into mats and bags.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The modern invention of national boundaries and the encroachment of cities and cultivated areas on the desert has reduced the Bedu range and forced many to become only seminomadic, settling in villages for part of the year and returning to their herds in the desert for only a few months, or to give up the Bedu way of life altogether. With the advent of trucks and planes, the Bedu services were no longer needed to transport goods and people along the Middle East desert trade route by camel caravan. The Bedu thereby lost their biggest asset and source of much of their wealth and power. Many of the Bedu themselves have purchased trucks and other four-wheel-drive vehicles for their own use or to cater to tourists as "taxis." Once the Bedu succumb to modernization, becoming dependent on motor vehicles and wells, they need cash to maintain this new lifestyle. When men take wage-earning jobs in the villages or cities, it separates them from their families and herds. Bedu parents see that their children will need formal schooling if they are going to succeed in this new modern life, so they settle near villages to take advantage of public education. The children then are divorced from their ancestors' traditional lifestyle and can no longer survive in the desert, so they must take wage-earning jobs. As the Bedu come into more contact with the industrial world, they also see that their sheikhs have little authority there, threatening the respect necessary for the sheikh's leadership.

These changes have undermined the traditional Bedu way of life and threaten their very existence as a separate people. Because of assimilation into the settled, technological world and the poverty (even death) of those Bedu who attempt to continue their nomadic ways, the Bedu as an identifiable group may soon become extinct. Yet, the Bedu are a proud people and have fought to retain their way of life. Arab nations and even many Israelis recognize the importance of the Bedu to their cultural heritage and have tried to accommodate the nomadic way of life. Efforts to incorporate the Bedu into modern nations have had varying degrees of success. Israel, for instance, tries to encourage the Bedu to give up their nomadic ways and to settle into modern Israeli society. Many Bedu resist this call because they prefer their nomadic, rural way of life. Other Arab nations such as Jordan have tried to build their national identity on the basis of their leaders' Bedu ties. However, the difference between the settled nature of modern nations and the wandering way of life of the Bedu is difficult to reconcile.

GENDER ISSUES

The rise of the modern nation-state has not been beneficial to Bedu women. The nomadic lifestyle was harsh, but it did give women a great deal of independence and authority. Bedu women typically supervised the domestic affairs of their clans. While men dealt with matters of herding, women ensured that the social relationships within a clan functioned. Divorce often was instituted by women who chose to express their displeasure with a spouse by moving back into their natal family's tents. As Bedu were forced to settle into planned communities, women lost a great deal of their autonomy. Their role became one not of supervising movement but of housecleaning and serving the male members of their clans. Many modern Bedu women have rebelled against the constraints that the new way of life imposes upon them and have often left their clans to integrate more fully with modern Arab society.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berman-Kishony, Talia. "Bedouin Urbanization Legal Policies in Israel and Jordan: Similar Goals, Contrasting Strategies. Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems, 17.2 (Spring 2008): 393-413.

Jabbur, Jibrail S. The Bedouins and the Desert: Aspects of Nomadic Life in the Arab East. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Katakura, Motoko. Bedouin Village: A Study of a Saudi Arabian People in Transition. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1977.

Keohane, Alan. Bedouin: Nomads of the Desert. London: Kyle Cathie Ltd., 1994.

Queder, Sarab Abu-Rabia. "Permission to rebel: Arab Bedouin women's changing negotiation of social roles," Feminist Studies 33.1 (Spring 2007) 161-188.

Zerubavel, Yael. "Memory, the Rebirth of the Native, and the 'Hebrew Bedouin' identity. Social Research 75.1 (Spring 2008): 315-353.

—revised by H. Gupta-Carlson

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Dust Storm

Dust Storm

The Dust Bowl
Dangerous science: How dust storms happen
Consequences of dust storms
The human factor
Technology connection
A matter of survival
For More Information

A dust storm is a large cloud of dust blown by a strong wind. The dust is primarily composed of tiny mineral particles that are lifted high into the atmosphere. The cloud of dust is so dense that it obscures the Sun and may reduce visibility to zero over an area as large as hundreds of thousands of square miles.

Dust storms primarily affect arid (desert) or semiarid (semi-dry) lands where the ground is made of loose soil and sand. They tend not to occur in the driest areas, since the ground is generally hard and flat, with rocks and gravel. Semiarid grassland that has been stripped of vegetation through plowing or overgrazing is particularly susceptible to erosion. Dust storms occur in semiarid land during times of drought, when there is no moisture to bind the soil together.

The areas of the world most prone to dust storms are northern Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia. In many places throughout these regions, dust storms take place from thirty to sixty days per year. Dust storms also occur, although with less frequency, in the arid and semiarid regions of the United States—especially in western Texas and the deserts of southern California, as well as the Great Plains states in the center of the country.

Dust storms can carry material for thousands of miles. Dust from the Sahara Desert settles as far away as Florida and other parts of the U.S. East Coast. Dust storms originating in central Asia have been spotted over the northwest Pacific Ocean, even reaching the West Coast of the United States. In the 1930s, dust from Kansas was deposited throughout the Midwest and the East Coast, and even in the Atlantic Ocean. Texas dust has been identified, through chemical analysis, in every eastern state as well as in portions of Europe.

Dust storms differ from sand storms in that sand storms are composed of sand particles, which are significantly larger than dust particles. Sand storms last a shorter time than dust storms, in general, because the heavier sand particles quickly settle to the ground when the wind weakens.

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl is the popular name for the approximately 150,000 square-mile-area (400,000-square-kilometer-area) in the southern portion of the Great Plains region of the United States. This region includes the northern parts of Oklahoma and Texas, southeastern Colorado, western Kansas, and northeastern New Mexico. It is characterized by low annual rainfall, a shallow layer of topsoil, and high winds. The Dust Bowl became well known during the 1930s, when a prolonged drought resulted in violent dust storms.

Pioneers who settled in the Dust Bowl in the 1910s through the 1930s made the mistake of plowing large areas of grassland and planting wheat. As it turned out, the thin, fragile layer of topsoil in the region had been anchored only by the grasses' intricate system of roots. When that root system was destroyed, the drought and wind joined forces to cause disastrous soil erosion.

The blowing soil covered roads and created drifts that, in some places, were high enough to bury houses. Dust clouds, more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometer) high and as wide as the eye could see, blew across the land and were frequently dense enough to block out the Sun. Around 300 million tons (270 million metric tons) of topsoil blew away in a single dust storm in May 1934.

As the drought continued year after year, many people were forced to give up their dreams of farming in the area. In all, one-fourth of the people who lived in the Dust Bowl left the region. Many of them were lured to California by promises of fertile fields and plentiful work.

During and after the Dust Bowl tragedy, the federal government implemented a program to restore the land. Among the techniques used were replacing grasslands and planting trees, as well as introducing agricultural methods appropriate to the area. Those efforts were successful and, by the early 1940s, it was again possible to farm the land.

WORDS TO KNOW

air mass:
a large quantity of air throughout which temperature and moisture content is fairly constant.
cold front:
the line behind which a cold air mass is advancing, and in front of which a warm air mass is retreating.
conservation tillage:
the practice of leaving vegetation on fields during idle periods to protect the soil from erosion and trap moisture.
convection:
the upward motion of an air mass or air parcel (a small volume of air that has a consistent temperature throughout, and experiences minimal mixing with the surrounding air) that has been heated.
cumulonimbus:
tall, dark, ominous-looking clouds that produce thunderstorms. Also called thunderstorm clouds.
desert climate:
the world's driest climate type, with less than 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) of rainfall annually.
desert pavement:
hard, flat, dry ground and gravel that remains after all sand and dust has been eroded from a surface.
downdraft:
a downward blast of air from a thunderstorm cloud, felt at the surface as a cool gust.
Dust Bowl:
the popular name for the approximately 150,000 square-mile-area (400,000-square-kilometer-area) in the southern portion of the Great Plains region of the United States. It is characterized by low annual rainfall, a shallow layer of topsoil, and high winds.
dust devil:
a spinning vortex of sand and dust that is usually harmless but may grow quite large. Also called a whirlwind.
dust storm:
a large cloud of dust blown by a strong wind.
erosion:
the wearing away of a surface by the action of wind, water, or ice.
Great Depression:
the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern world. It began with the stock market crash of 1929 and lasted through the late 1930s.
haboob:
a tumbling black wall of sand that has been stirred up by cold downdrafts along the leading edge of a thunderstorm or cold front. It occurs in north-central Africa and the southwestern United States.
harmattan:
a mild, dry, and dusty wind that originates in the Sahara Desert.
khamsin:
a hot, dry, southerly wind that originates on the Sahara and produces large sand and dust storms.
saltation:
the wind-driven movement of particles along the ground and through the air.
shamal:
a hot, dry, dusty wind that blows for one to five days at a time, producing great dust storms throughout the Persian Gulf.
simoom:
a hot, dry, blustery, dust-laden wind that blows across the Sahara and the deserts of Israel, Syria, and the Arabian peninsula.
windbreak:
row of trees or shrubs placed in a farm field to slow the wind and keep it from blowing away the soil.

The destruction of the prairie

In the early part of the twentieth century, farmers were encouraged to settle the Great Plains to grow wheat and other cereal crops. Land speculators claimed that the region was so fertile and the climate so dependable that "the rain would follow the plow." In the early years, plentiful rains produced bountiful crops.

With wheat in high demand, farmers plowed and planted acreages as large as their tractors could cover. As the amount of wheat being produced increased, the prices decreased. When farmers received less money for their grain, they tried to make up for the loss by increasing the size of their fields the following year. Thus increasingly more land was plowed and planted.

Certain agricultural practices added to the problem. Most farmers came to the plains from the Northeast and the Midwest, bringing with them farming techniques that had worked well in their former locations. One such method was to plant fields only every other season, allowing the fields to lie fallow—that is, without planting any crops—in between. During the fallow period, farmers frequently plowed the soil to uproot weeds, clean the surface of crop residues, and open the ground in the hopes of trapping moisture.

While that method may have worked well in the heartier soils in other parts of the country, it was a disaster in the Great Plains. The loosened, unprotected soil was made especially vulnerable to erosion by the high winds that came each year during the months of February, March, and April. The wind removed the finer silt and clay particles from the soil, leaving behind coarser particles of sand. With the fine particles went the soil's nutrients and organic matter, as well as its water storage capacity. The sandy soil that remained was of poor quality for growing crops.

Rain storms replaced by dust storms

A severe drought began in the eastern United States in 1930, and by the following year it had worked its way westward. As the drought progressed, dust storms, also called "black blizzards," grew more frequent and removed increasing amounts of topsoil. The storms made the sky turn dark in the middle of the day, stranded motorists, and stalled trains. Houses quickly filled with dust, and many people died from what doctors called "dust pneumonia (pronounced NEW-moan-ya)" when the dirt clogged their lungs. The number of major dust storms increased each year from 1932 to 1935.

The year 1934 saw the worst drought in the history of the United States. Seventy-five percent of the country suffered water shortages and twenty-seven states were severely affected. By the end of the year, some 35 million acres (14 million hectares) of farmland had been rendered useless for crop production. Soil erosion continued and in 1935 alone, an estimated 850 million tons (765 million metric tons) of topsoil blew off the southern plains. Yet even as crops refused to grow, farmers continued to plow and plant—hopeful that the rains would return. Instead, it only made things worse.

Black Sunday On

April 14, 1935, a day known as Black Sunday, the Dust Bowl experienced its worst dust storm of the era. Black Sunday came at the end of weeks of dust storms, including a storm just two weeks earlier that had ruined 5 million acres (2 million hectares) of wheat. In the storm of April 14, visibility was reduced to zero, and people who were trapped outdoors suffocated. Thousands of livestock died in the fields. Robert Geiger, a reporter from the Associated Press, was on assignment in Guymon, Oklahoma, on that date. In his report filed April 15, Geiger coined the term "Dust Bowl"—and the term stuck. "Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer's tongue," wrote Geiger, "rule life in the dust bowl of the continent—'if it rains.'"

Black Sunday, which also happened to be Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter Sunday, began as a clear, sunny morning. Dust Bowl residents were grateful for the crisp blue skies, having grown weary of the hazy, dusty horizon. People flocked to country churches that morning, and after services families climbed into automobiles for Sunday drives.

By noon, the temperature had reached its high for the day—90°F (32°C). Shortly thereafter, the air began to cool rapidly. By mid-afternoon the temperature had dropped to just half of the noontime level. A huge, dark cloud appeared menacingly on the horizon.

To many people who saw the cloud approaching, it appeared as if the end of the world was upon them. The cloud extended from the ground to a height of more than 7,000 feet (2,135 meters), and as it moved across the land, it rolled over people, homes, and fields. Nothing escaped.

"The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face," reported Avis D. Carlson in the New Republic following Black Sunday. "People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk."

The New Deal provides relief

The economic disaster facing Dust Bowl farmers in the 1930s was made worse by the catastrophe plaguing the nation as a whole: the Great Depression. The Great Depression was the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern world. It began with the stock market crash in 1929 and lasted through the late 1930s. More than 15 million Americans, amounting to one-quarter of the workforce, found themselves unemployed. In better times, perhaps, the problems of the Dust Bowl farmers would have received more attention from the federal government. In the early 1930s, however, the farmers were just another down-and-out group.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) took office in 1933, he began an enormous effort, known as the New Deal, to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. The New Deal

Eyewitness report: A first-hand account of the Dust Bowl

The following excerpts are from Farming the Dust Bowl, a memoir of the Dust Bowl years by Lawrence Svobida. Svobida was a wheat farmer in Kansas in the 1930s who had to leave his farm because of the years of drought and dust storms.

I did not yet know that the dry era had commenced, and that the spring of 1932 would see the creation of the dreaded Dust Bowl in our section of the Great Plains.

So, though my land lacked moisture, when seeding time came in September I drilled my wheat in dry ground.

… In January a foot of snow fell, but that was all the moisture we had, and it was not enough to make a crop. Some of my wheat came up, but it was thin, sickly looking stuff, with only two or three leaves to a plant.

… Most of my remaining wheat fell an easy prey to the first gales of February, and none of the wheat that was up in the region could long withstand the succeeding gales, which first chopped off the plants even with the ground, then proceeded to take the roots out. They did not stop there. They blew away the rich topsoil, leaving the subsoil exposed; and then kept sweeping away at the hardpan, which is almost as hard as concrete.

… Several times each day I anxiously scanned the sky. Time after time clouds formed and united together, and my hopes would rise; but no rain came, and my hopes would fade and die. I lived in suspense, looking, hoping, wishing—expecting rain that did not come.

… Throughout the fall and winter we had neither rain nor snow, and when the usual gales came in February they were worse in velocity and endurance than any I had previously experienced.

With the gales came the dust. Sometimes it was so thick that it completely hid the sun. Visibility ranged from nothing to fifty feet, the former when the eyes were filled with dirt which could not be avoided, even with goggles…. During a gale the dust would sift into the houses through crevices around the doors and windows, eventually to lie an inch or more deep all over the floors, and on tables, chairs, and beds.

… When I knew that my crop was irrevocably gone I experienced a deathly feeling which, I hope, can affect a man only once in a lifetime. My dreams and ambitions had been flouted by nature, and my shattered ideals seemed gone forever…. Fate had dealt me a cruel blow above which I felt utterly unable to rise. Season after season I had planted two, and sometimes three, crops. I had worked incessantly to gain a harvest, or to keep my land from blowing, and no effort of mine had proved fruitful. Words are useless to describe the sensation a human being experiences when the thin thread of faith snaps. I had reached the depths of utter despair.

#x2026; With my financial resources at last exhausted and my health seriously, if not permanently, impaired, I am at last ready to admit defeat and leave the Dust Bowl forever. With youth and ambition ground into the very dust itself, I can only drift with the tide.

consisted of hundreds of social programs, building projects, and economic initiatives to get America back on its feet. Public works programs employed large numbers of people in a variety of construction and neighborhood improvement projects. One public works program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), employed some 8.5 million people nationwide—including many Dust Bowl farmers. The WPA built hundreds of roads, bridges, buildings, parks, campgrounds, and other public facilities across the nation.

Beginning in 1933, the federal government provided help to Dust Bowl farmers with the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, which made two hundred million dollars in loans available to farmers to help them keep their farms. The same year also saw the birth of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which paid farmers to reduce their acreage under cultivation in an effort to give the land a chance to stabilize. Toward the end of 1933, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) purchased pigs from farmers who were struggling to feed their livestock. The FSRC slaughtered the animals and donated the meat to relief agencies. The FSRC also provided apples, beans, flour, and other products to agencies assisting struggling farmers.

In 1934 Congress approved the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act, which limited the ability of banks to foreclose on farmers during drought or other times of misfortune. At the same time, Congress turned 140 million acres (56 million hectares) of federally owned land in the Dust Bowl into carefully monitored grazing districts to help prevent overgrazing and to stop erosion on those lands.

Migration from the Great Plains

One consequence of the long drought was that many farmers were forced off their farms. During the 1930s, one out of four farmers in the Dust Bowl loaded up his family and belongings and left the region. This amounted to the largest migration in the history of the United States.

Of the 2.5 million people who left the Dust Bowl, about 200,000 ended up in California—lured by promises of plentiful jobs. There they found conditions that were in many ways as hopeless as those they had left. The migrants' miserable experience with California began on the highway at the border, where police tried to turn them away. An account of one farmer, published in Collier's magazine in 1935, reported a border agent stating: "California's relief rolls are overcrowded now. No use to come farther…. There really is nothing for you here…. Nothing, really nothing." The migrant farmer replied, "So? Well, you ought to see what they got where I come from."

Once the road-weary farmers made it to the rich agricultural land of the San Joaquin, they encountered new difficulties. Owners of enormous farming operations took advantage of the large number of people desperately seeking work and lowered wages. The Dust Bowl refugees were paid about one dollar a day to pick fruit and cotton. Out of that meager wage they were charged twenty-five cents a day to live in dilapidated shacks with no electricity or running water. Some farm owners operated company stores, at which they charged exorbitant rates for basic necessities. Since the migrants were typically living far from towns and many had no transportation, they had little choice but to patronize the company stores. As a result, many workers found that not only were they unable to save money, they actually became indebted to their employers.

Soil conservation measures adopted

In the early 1930s the federal government, through the Soil Erosion Service (SES), began implementing soil conservation measures on certain federal lands in the Great Plains. The SES's director, Hugh Bennett (1881–1960), came to be known as the father of soil conservation and pushed tirelessly for a greater commitment on the part of the federal government to save the land.

On April 27, 1935, Bennett was scheduled to address a Congressional committee about the need for enhanced soil conservation measures. Coincidentally, a dust storm on that day was reportedly heading eastward from northeastern New Mexico. Bennett believed that if the Washington lawmakers could experience the dust firsthand, they would be more likely to accept his proposals. Bennett stalled his presentation just long enough for the black blizzard to descend upon the capital. "This, gentlemen," stated Bennett in reference to the dust that dimmed the Sun, "is what I have been talking about." Bewildered legislators responded by declaring soil erosion "a national menace" and passing the Soil Conservation Act—legislation dedicated to the improvement of farming techniques.

Bennett lost no time putting into action a number of measures aimed at stabilizing the land. His grand plan was to put each acre to its best use—farmland, prairie, or forest—and to create specific land management plans according to the needs of every area. He first concentrated on returning seriously damaged land to grassland and planting windbreaks—lines of trees and shrubs—across windswept plains. He then focused on educating farmers about agricultural methods appropriate to the region. Farmers, reluctant to voluntarily change their practices, were paid one dollar per acre to go along with the federal conservation program.

By the end of the 1930s, conditions in the Dust Bowl were improving. As a result of conservation measures, the quantity of blowing soil had been decreased, and in the fall of 1939 the rains returned. Farming once again became possible in the Dust Bowl. Economic conditions also improved during the 1940s, driving up the price of wheat and other crops. As a result, farmers were able to make a living by cultivating smaller parcels of land. In 1943 Hugh Bennett summed up the hopeful spirit that had come over the region as follows: "If we are bold in our thinking, courageous in accepting new ideas, and willing to work with instead of against our land, we shall find in conservation farming an avenue to the greatest food production the world has ever known."

On the shelf: Dust Bowl migrants immortalized in The Grapes of Wrath

The anguish of the Dust Bowl years was captured by American writer John Steinbeck (1902–68) in his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath. This book tells the story of the Joads, a family of farmers forced to leave their land in Oklahoma. The Joads followed the promise of agricultural opportunity in California, only to face further hardships at the hands of ruthless farm owners. The novel opened the eyes of the nation to the plight of migrant farmworkers during the Great Depression.

The Grapes of Wrath won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and was made into a movie in 1940. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Following are excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath:

When the truck had gone, loaded with implements, with heavy tools, with beds and springs, with every movable thing that might be sold, Tom hung around the place…. Behind him Ma moved about in the kitchen, washing children's clothes in a bucket; and her strong freckled arms dripped soapsuds from the elbows….

She said, "Tom, I hope things is all right in California."

He turned and looked at her. "What makes you think they ain't?" he asked.

"Well—nothing. Seems too nice, kinda. I seen the han'bills fellas pass out, an' how much work they is, an' high wages an' all; an' I seen in the paper how they want folks to come an' pick grapes an' oranges an' peaches. That'd be nice work, Tom, pickin' peaches. Even if they wouldn't let you eat none, you could maybe snitch a little ratty one sometimes. An' it'd be nice under the trees, workin' in the shade. I'm scared of stuff so nice. I ain't got faith. I'm scared somepin ain't so nice about it."

… Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66—the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map, from the Mississippi to Bakersfield—over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from the dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there….

Two hundred and fifty thousand people over the road. Fifty thousand old cars—wounded, steaming. Wrecks along the road, abandoned. Well, what happened to them? What happened to the folks in that car?…

"We ain't no bums," Tom insisted. "We're lookin' for work. We'll take any kind a work."

The young man paused in fitting the brace to the valve slot. He looked in amazement at Tom. "Lookin' for work?" he said. "So you're lookin' for work. What ya think ever'body else is lookin' for? Di'monds?…"

Tom said, "Back home some fellas come through with han'bills—orange ones. Says they need lots a people out here to work the crops."

The young man laughed. "They say they's three hunderd thousan' us folks here, an' I bet ever' dam' fam'ly seen them han'bills."

"Yeah, but if they don' need folks, what'd they go to the trouble puttin' them things out for?"…

"Look," the young man said. "S'pose you got a job a work an' there's jus' one fella wants the job. You got to pay 'im what he asts. But s'pose they's a hunderd men … wants that job. S'pose them men got kids, an' them kids is hungry. S'pose a lousy dime'll buy a box a mush for them kids. S'pose a nickel'll buy at leas' somepin for them kids. An' you got a hunderd men. Jus' offer 'em a nickel—why, they'll kill each other fightin' for that nickel…. That's why them han'bills was out. You can print a hell of a lot of han'bills with what ya save payin' fifteen cents an hour for fiel'work."

Dangerous science: How dust storms happen

A dust storm begins when wind sweeps through dry areas that have loosened soils. The speed of the wind must be great enough to move larger particles, which then bump into tiny dust particles. There is a very shallow layer of calm air, extending only about 0.004 inch (0.01 centimeter) above the ground, which is unaffected by the wind. The tiny particles lay in that layer and are only stirred when they are struck by larger particles around them. For semiarid areas, such as Colorado and Arkansas, a sustained wind of 25 to 36 miles (40 to 58 kilometers) per hour is required to start a dust storm; for deserts, a sustained wind of 11 to 36 miles (18 to 58 kilometers) per hour is needed.

The strong wind sets in motion a process called saltation—the wind-driven movement of sand or soil particles along the ground. The moving particles bounce into other particles, sending them in motion. Some of the particles become airborne. When they fall back to the ground they strike other particles, knocking them upward and into the wind.

As the avalanche of particles continues its forward march, the whole surface of the soil gets blown into motion. While the larger particles remain close to the ground, the smaller particles get sent higher into the air and only make their way back down very slowly. The smallest particles get carried upward by air currents, rather than falling back to the ground, creating a cloud of dust. The dust moves along with the wind and is only deposited when the wind dies down, the particles become trapped by vegetation, or when rain begins to fall.

Haboobs

One type of sand-and-dust storm that occurs frequently in the deserts of the Sudan region of north-central Africa and in the southwestern region of the United States is the haboob (pronounced huh-BOOB). This word is taken from the Arabic word habub, which means "blowing furiously." A haboob is a tumbling, black wall of dust and sand that has been stirred up by cold downdrafts (downward blasts of air along the leading edge of a thunderstorm or a cold front, felt at the surface as cool gusts). The downdrafts strike the hot, dusty ground and force the surface air, as well as the top layer of sand and dust, upward. They create a wall of particles that may rise a mile or more above the ground, sometimes all the way to the base of the thunderstorm cloud, reducing visibility to near zero.

Haboobs generally last for thirty minutes to an hour and encompass areas ranging from several square miles to hundreds of square miles. They travel at speeds of about 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour across short spans or for great distances. Dust storms caused by the downdrafts of cold fronts—because of the vigorous winds and forceful lifting of air—tend to be the most intense form of haboobs. At the leading edge of a cold air mass, dust may be thrown as high as 23,000 feet (7,000 meters or 7 kilometers) into the air and transported for thousands of miles (kilometers).

Other types of desert dust and sand storms

Dust and sand storms occur frequently in deserts, due to the combination of loose soil and high winds. The windiness of deserts is primarily due to the heating of the surface. The temperature of the dry ground on a sunny day may be exceedingly hot, in some places more than 130°F (54°C). Air rises from the hot surface in a powerful convection (upward thrusting) flow, which sets surface winds blowing across the ground as cooler air rushes in from the surrounding area to take the place of the rising hot air. Wind speeds are greatest during the hottest part of the day and the hottest time of year.

As strong winds blow across a desert, they lift up and carry dust and sand. Dust and sand storms occur with the greatest frequency over western Africa, due to the harmattan (pronounced har-ma-TAHN; also spelled harmatan, harmetan, or hermitan)—a mild, dry, and dusty wind that originates in the Sahara. The harmattan is an easterly or northeasterly wind that produces dust and sand storms up to 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) high. More than 300 million tons (272 million metric tons) of reddish Saharan dust are transported westward across the continent each year, 100 million tons (91 million metric tons) of which are deposited into the Atlantic Ocean. Two or three times a year, Saharan dust travels 1,600 miles (2,574 kilometers) to Great Britain where it falls to the ground as a red precipitation that the locals call "blood rain."

Another hot, dry, southerly wind originating on the Sahara that produces large sand and dust storms is the khamsin (pronounced kahm-SENE). The khamsin forms over Libya and Egypt. When a storm is present to the west over Turkey, the khamsin blows dust over the northern tip of the Red Sea and into Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. The khamsin is a regular, annually occurring wind. Its name is the Arabic word for "fifty"; it blows for about fifty days straight, starting in mid-March. This dry wind brings air to the region that is hotter than 120°F (49°C) and has less than 10 percent relative humidity.

Great dust storms are produced each year throughout the Persian Gulf and the lower valley of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq by the shamal (pronounced shah-MALL). Shamal is the Arabic word for "left-hand" or "north." This hot, dry, and dusty wind from the northwest blows for periods lasting from one to five days at various times throughout the year. Once a year, typically in June and early July, the wind blows for forty days straight, at about 30 miles (50 kilometers) per hour, in what is known as the great shamal, or the forty-day shamal.

A dry, blustery, dust-laden wind called a simoom (pronounced si-MOOM) blows across North Africa and the Middle East, depositing its dust on Europe. The simoom, which often reaches temperatures of more than 130°F (54°C) and can cause heatstroke, is nicknamed the poison wind.

Consequences of dust storms

Dust storms can cause millions of dollars in damage to crops, roads, and buildings. Dust storms strip the land of the most fertile portion of the soil. Damage to soil results in a decline of productivity and a loss of income for farmers—often translating to higher food prices for consumers. Blowing soil can kill or damage seedlings, stunt the growth of vegetable crops, and introduce pathogens (microorganisms) that cause plant disease.

Water quality suffers during dust storms, as well. Dust settles into drainage ditches, and the tiny particles are difficult to remove entirely during the water treatment process. Dust storms also destroy wildlife habitat, causing certain populations of animals to either migrate in search of food or starve.

The sediment thrust into the air during dust storms reduces air quality and is harmful to human health. Inhalation of the particles is damaging to lungs and sinuses, and can trigger allergy attacks. During dust storms, hospitals and clinics report increased admissions for respiratory infections, cardiac disease, bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia.

Dust storms, because of their reduction of visibility (sometimes to zero), pose a hazard to vehicles on the ground, in the air, and on the water. Dust enters and damages the inner workings of motor vehicles and other machines, as well.

Windblown dust, specifically the rubbing together of dirt particles, produces static electricity. During Dust Bowl storms, farmers saw balls of electricity traversing their barbed wire fences. The electric charge can cause dry material, such as withered crops and fence posts, to catch fire. It also alters the workings of electronic equipment; it can scramble radio broadcasts and short out car ignitions.

Dust devils

Dust devils, also called whirlwinds, are spinning columns of sand and dust. They typically arise on clear, hot, relatively calm days, over warm, dry surfaces such as deserts, plowed fields, or flat expanses of dirt. Dust devils form with less frequency along the leading, cold air/warm air boundary of a haboob (a tumbling black wall of sand that has been stirred up by cold downdrafts). Although dust devils bear a superficial resemblance to tornadoes, they are less destructive than their cloudy cousins and form by different processes.

The first step in the formation of a dust devil is when hot air rises forcefully from the surface by convection, creating a low pressure area at the surface. Next, surface winds converge (come together) to that point of low pressure. If there are horizontal layers of wind traveling at different speeds (a phenomenon called wind shear), it causes the rising air to spin about a vertical axis.

Dust devils are usually small, measuring less than 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter and less than 300 feet (91 meters) in height. They often last less than one minute. The largest dust devils reach a diameter of 100 feet (30 meters) and a height of 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) and last for twenty minutes or more. The wind speed in the largest dust devils may exceed 86 miles (138 kilometers) per hour.

Every year dust devils cause significant damage in the United States, including overturning mobile homes and tearing roofs off buildings. A large and long-lived dust devil can toss more than 50 tons (45 metric tons) of dust and debris up toward the sky.

The human factor

Humans contribute to the formation of dust storms through improper agricultural practices and overgrazing cattle. This is particularly true in semiarid areas, such as the southern portion of the Great Plains. The topsoil there exists in a thin layer and is best suited for growing grass. Grass protects the soil above ground by reducing the force of the wind; underground, its roots anchor the soil in place. If the land is plowed for planting, or if cattle overgraze, the grass is removed and the soil's stabilization system is destroyed. If dry conditions then prevail (removing moisture—the remaining anchor for the soil), the soil can easily be blown away.

While erosion on the scale of the Dust Bowl has not recurred in the United States since the 1930s, erosion remains a serious problem in the Great Plains and in the western United States. The states most susceptible to this problem are Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Montana. In 2000, almost five million acres of agricultural land in the United States experienced soil loss.

Technology connection

Soil scientists have developed several methods for reducing the incidence and intensity of dust storms, all of which involve the anchoring of the soil to prevent it from blowing away. On nonagricultural lands, such as seacoasts, steep slopes, and deserts, people plant sturdy grasses to prevent erosion. On agricultural lands, the practices used to prevent or lessen the effects of dust storms are similar to those used against drought.

On the shelves: Dust Bowl Diary

Dust Bowl Diary, by Ann Marie Low, provides a first-hand account of what it was like to grow up during the Dust Bowl era of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The book is based on a diary that Low kept beginning in 1927, when she was fifteen years old and living on a farm in North Dakota. The book spans ten years and chronicles her life during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

"Many days this spring the air is just full of dirt coming, literally for hundreds of miles," Low writes in her April 25, 1934, entry. "It sifts into everything. After we wash the dishes and put them away, so much dirt sifts into the cupboards we must wash them again before the next meal. Clothes in the closets are covered with dust."

Through her personal account, Low offers a window into the social and economic conditions that characterized the era. Dust Bowl Diary also provides a rare and exciting opportunity to read about a major historical event from the perspective of a teenager.

One example of an erosion-combatting agricultural practice is the planting of rows of trees or shrubs, called windbreaks, at intervals throughout farm fields. Windbreaks, which run crossways to the direction that the wind usually blows, slow the wind and keep it from blowing away the soil. According to one study, a thin row of cottonwood trees is capable of reducing wind speed by one-third, dropping the speed from 15 miles (24 kilometers) per hour to 10 miles (16 kilometers) per hour. Trees also trap snow on the ground, thereby increasing the moisture content of the soil.

Another strategy, called conservation tillage, is the practice of leaving stubble from the previous season's crop, or growing a cover crop, on fields during fallow (idle) periods. The vegetation left on fields protects the soil from erosion and traps moisture. Farmers also protect the soil by digging waterways in fields. The waterways keep soil from washing away during heavy rains, as well as catch and divert rainwater.

Strip plowing, terrace farming, and crop rotation are three more ways to guard against dust storms on agricultural lands. Strip plowing is the alternating of rows of wheat with rows of fast-growing, dense plants such as sorghum (pronounced SOAR-gum) or sudan grass. Terrace farming, which also aims to trap soil and water, involves the building of earthen terraces in fields as well as mixing rows of cereal crops, like wheat, with rows of grasses, shrubs, and trees. Crop rotation is the alternating use of a given field from year to year. A three-year cycle of crop rotation may involve, for example, using a field for wheat one year, then sorghum, and then letting it lie fallow—that is, without any planting.

A matter of survival

Dust storms, though of lesser intensity and frequency than during the 1930s, remain common occurrences in the western United States. A typical dust storm today lasts fifteen to twenty minutes. It either reduces visibility, causing a brownout, or blocks out all light, causing a blackout.

Extreme weather: Dust storm accidents

Dust storms greatly reduce visibility and make for treacherous traveling. The following are a few examples of crashes caused by dust storms:

On July 10, 1997, a dust storm in southern Arizona reduced visibility to zero in the early afternoon. On Interstate 10, there were eleven accidents involving twenty-eight vehicles. About twenty-five people in those vehicles received minor injuries; some of the injured were teenagers on a tour bus that was rear-ended by a large truck.

One month later, on August 15, 1997, a dust storm descended upon Denver, Colorado, causing chain reaction crashes on Interstate 70. Eleven vehicles were involved in accidents, and ten people were hospitalized with injuries. The dust came from a prairie north of the freeway, causing a "total brownout" in the words of one motorist. Visibility was estimated at 30 feet (9 meters).

On the morning of September 25, 1999, a sudden dust storm, with wind gusts up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour, developed in northern Oregon. On Interstate 84, near the city of Pendleton, traffic accidents claimed seven lives and injured twenty-seven people. Dozens of vehicles, including cars and trucks, were involved in five separate pileups as the dusty darkness overtook the region.

If you see a dust storm coming, immediately seek shelter indoors. Seal openings around doors and windows with wet towels. If you are stuck outdoors during a dust storm, turn your face away from the wind, and cover your mouth, nose, and eyes with a cloth.

If a dust storm approaches while you are traveling in your car, pull off the road as far as possible so other cars don't run into you. If you're on a highway shoulder, turn off your lights so that other drivers do not think you're on the road and drive up behind you. If a dust storm approaches, and you are not able to pull off the road, slow down and put on your flashing hazard lights. Exit the road as quickly as possible. Don't leave your car; it's easy to become disoriented and lose your way in a dust storm.

[See AlsoDrought ]

For More Information

BOOKS

Allaby, Michael. Droughts. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1998.

Andryszewski, Tricia. The Dust Bowl: Disaster on the Plains. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1984.

Knapp, Brian. Drought. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Library, 1990.

Lancaster, Nicolas. "Geologic Work by Wind" in Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences. E. Julius Dasch, ed. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996.

Prospero, J. M. "Dust Storm." McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.

Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp. New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 1992.

Stewart, Gail B. Drought. New York: Crestwood House, 1990.

Svobida, Lawrence. Farming the Dust Bowl: A First-Hand Account from Kansas. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1986. (Originally published in 1940 by The Caxton Printers, Ltd.)

Walker, Jane. Famine, Drought and Plagues. New York: Gloucester Press, 1992.

Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

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Dust Storms

Dust Storms

Introduction

Dust storms occur when sustained high winds blow near Earth's surface in arid regions, pick up large quantities of fine sand or dust, and transport the materials over great distances. More than 40% of the world's land surface is arid, either already desert land or in the process of desertification. These desert margins undergoing desertification are prone to dust storms. Human activities— particularly mismanagement of land uses in marginal arid regions—and climate change that is causing desert areas to get even drier are contributing to an increase in dust storms. Dust storms arise most frequently in four regions: Central Asia, North America, Africa, and Australia.

Airborne particles in dust storms are a health hazard and can cause considerable damage because of their abrasive effect on any surface in the storm's path. When dust storms pass over industrial areas, emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels can be incorporated in the storm causing even more serious health hazards.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

Core samples taken from ocean floors and studies of glaciers indicate that dust storms have occurred for at least 70 million years. The term dust storm also includes sand storms, the difference being the size of the soil particles involved. Sand particles are about 0.02 in (0.5 mm) in diameter, while dust particles are smaller. The size of the particles transported and the wind speed determine the character of a dust storm.

Blown sand generally reaches a height up to about 49 ft (15 m) in winds of 10 mph (16 km/h). Heavy sand particles tend only to creep along the surface, moving sand dunes from one location to another. At higher wind speeds, sand particles are lifted and then bounce along the surface, a process called saltation. This process can loosen finer particles and trigger a more extensive dust storm. Very fine dust particles can be lifted by turbulent air hundreds or thousands of miles into the atmosphere and be carried many thousands of miles with the prevailing winds. Dust from extreme storms has been documented as high as 35,000 ft (10,668 m). Fine clay dust particles that are extremely small (0.00004 in/0.001 mm in size) can remain in the atmosphere for years.

WORDS TO KNOW

DESERT: A land area so dry that little or no plant or animal life can survive.

DESERTIFICATION: Transformation of arid or semiarid productive land into desert.

SALTATION: Any sudden or jumping change. Particles of snow or sand lofted by wind undergo saltation, building dunes. Climate change may encourage saltation by drying out soils.

Dust clouds prevent solar radiation from reaching the ground temporarily, causing a cooling effect at Earth's surface. However, dust clouds also absorb solar radiation thereby heating the cloud itself. Dust storms are most likely to occur in the spring when weather systems are most turbulent. Once a dust storm begins, the dust cloud can travel thousands of miles across the globe. Dust from the Sahara region of Africa is the source of much of the wind blown dust around the world, although some dust storms that originated on the Mongolian-China border have reached the United States and Canada.

Impacts and Issues

Dust from the Sahara region can travel across the Atlantic Ocean. The change in solar heating associated with a dust cloud temporarily alters Earth's climate. Cooling at the surface can occur far downwind from the dust cloud. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute of Space Studies has researched the effect of major dust storms on climate. The cooling effect from a major Arabian dust storm was observed to extend to regions from northern Asia to the Pacific and North America. The average surface temperature was reduced by 1.8 F (1 C).

The relationship between climate change and dust storms continues to be a focus of research. Recent studies using data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer on U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar-orbiting satellites indicate there is a correlation between increased dust storm activity in the Sahara region of North Africa and a reduction of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. Dust storms and sand storms are seen easily by instruments on NOAA satellites. For the past 25 years, NOAA has used the data gathered by these satellites to monitor the sources of dust storms and sand storms and track their movements.

See Also Desert and Desertification; Drought; Hurricanes; Wind Power.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Web Sites

“Desertification.” U.S. Geological Survey, October 29, 1997. < http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/desertification/> (accessed August 20, 2007).

“Dust and Sandstorms from the World's Drylands.” United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2007. < http://www.unccd.int/publicinfo/duststorms/menu.php> (accessed August 25, 2007).

“Dust Storms, Sand Storms and Related NOAA Activities in the Middle East.” NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Magazine, April 2003. < http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag86.htm> (accessed August 25, 2007).

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Dust Storms

Dust Storms

Introduction

Dust storms occur when sustained high winds blow near Earth’s surface in arid regions, pick up large quantities of fine sand or dust, and transport the materials over great distances. More than 40% of the world’s land surface is arid, either already desert land or in the process of desertification. These desert margins undergoing desertification are prone to dust storms. Human activities—particularly mismanagement of land use in marginal arid regions—and climate change that is causing desert areas to get even drier are contributing to an increase in dust storms. Dust storms arise most frequently in Central Asia, North America, Africa, and Australia.

Airborne particles in dust storms are a health hazard and can cause considerable damage because of their abrasive effect on objects in the storm’s path. When dust storms pass over industrial areas, emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels can be incorporated in the storm, causing even more serious health hazards.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

Core samples taken from ocean floors and studies of glaciers indicate that dust storms have occurred for at least 70 million years. The term “dust storm” also includes sand storms, the difference being the size of the soil particles involved. Sand particles are about 0.02 in (0.5 mm) in diameter, while dust particles are smaller. The size of the particles transported and the wind speed determine the character of a dust storm.

Blown sand generally reaches a height up to about 49 ft (15 m) in winds of 10 mph (16 km/h). Heavy sand particles tend only to creep along the surface moving sand dunes from one location to another. At higher wind speeds, sand particles are lifted and then bounce along the surface, a process called saltation. This process can loosen finer particles and trigger a more extensive dust storm. Very fine dust particles can be lifted by turbulent air hundreds or thousands of miles into the atmosphere and be carried many thousands of miles with the prevailing winds. Dust from extreme storms has been documented as high as 35,000 ft (10,668 m). Fine clay dust particles that are extremely small (0.00004 in/0.001 mm in size) can remain in the atmosphere for years.

Dust clouds prevent solar radiation from reaching the ground temporarily, causing a cooling effect at Earth’s surface. However, dust clouds also absorb solar radiation thereby heating the cloud itself. Dust storms are most likely to occur in the spring when weather systems are most turbulent. Once a dust storm begins, the dust cloud can travel thousands of miles across the globe. Dust from the Sahara region of Africa is the source of much of the wind-blown dust around the world, although some dust storms that originated on the Mongolian-China border have reached the United States and Canada.

Impacts and Issues

Dust from the Sahara region can travel across the Atlantic Ocean. The change in solar heating associated with a dust cloud temporarily alters Earth’s climate; cooling at the surface can occur far downwind from the dust cloud. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute of Space Studies has researched the effect of major dust storms on climate. The cooling effect from one major Arabian dust storm was observed to extend to regions from northern Asia to the Pacific and North America. The average surface temperature was reduced by 1.8°F (1°C).

The relationship between climate change and dust storms continues to be a focus of research. Recent stud-

WORDS TO KNOW

DESERT: A land area so dry that little or no plant or animal life can survive.

DESERTIFICATION: Transformation of arid or semiarid productive land into desert.

SALTATION: The intermittent, leaping movement of small particles due to the force of wind or running water.

ies using data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer on U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar-orbiting satellites indicate there is a correlation between increased dust storm activity in the Sahara region of North Africa and a reduction of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. Dust storms and sand storms are seen easily by instruments on NOAA satellites. For the past 25 years, NOAA has used the data gathered by these satellites to monitor the sources of dust storms and sandstorms and track their movements.

Dust storms are a common occurrence on Mars; clouds of dust have been observed to cover almost the entire surface of the planet for weeks at a time. Although Venus and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, also have significant atmospheres, neither is known to experience dust storms.

IN CONTEXT: BLACK BLIZZARDS

Beginning around the 1880s, pioneer settlers started to extensively farm the former short grasslands of the Great Plains with improper agricultural practices for such a semi-arid climatic environment. With the removal of these stable grasses, a sustained period of drought and perpetually strong and destructive wind and dust storms (often called Black Blizzards) caused severe soil erosion, removal of topsoil, and nutrient leaching in the latter half of the 1930s in many areas of eastern Colorado, western Kansas, eastern New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and western Texas. As conditions wors-ened, any soil conservation measures that had been previously used were drastically cut or eliminated in order to reduce costs. In order to make more money, farmers often expanded onto poorer lands that caused even more vulnerability to loss of soil moisture, depletion of soil nutrients, wind erosion, and other environmental problems.

See Also Desertification; Deserts; Drought; Land use; Overgrazing

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Web Sites

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Magazine. “Dust Storms, Sand Storms and Related NOAA Activities in the Middle East.” April 7, 2003. http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag86.htm (accessed March 29, 2008).

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. “Dust and Sandstorms from the World’s Drylands.”http://www.unccd.int/publicinfo/duststorms/menu.php (accessed March 29, 2008).

U.S. Geological Survey. “Desertification.” http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/desertification/ (accessed March 29, 2008).

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