Fitness and Health

Hundreds killed in dust storms, serious problem in parts of US

The kind of dust storm that suddenly darkened an Illinois highway on Monday and killed seven people is becoming more common in parts of the United States, some researchers say. said to be a much worse phenomenon than

A storm in Illinois caused a pile-up of 72 cars after high winds whipped dust from recently plowed farms into clouds and hardened the interiors of cars.At least 37 people were hospitalized.

Such storms often lead to accidents, many of which are fatal. Although there is no definitive track of the nationwide prevalence of dust storms, his March study, published in the Proceedings of the American Meteorological Society, found that between 2007 and 2017, dust storms killed 272 people. I know there have been deaths.

“This problem is vastly underestimated, understudied and underreported,” says Daniel, co-author of the study, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and an associate professor at George Mason University. Ton said.

Dust storms occur when high-velocity winds whip dirt and debris into the air, creating dark swirling masses that are difficult to see or breathe. They are especially dangerous on the road and can block the driver’s vision. Advice from authorities and motor vehicle safety groups such as the AAA in such cases is to stay out of the roadway completely, turn off your lights to prevent others from following you in the dark, and fasten your seatbelt until you pass. .

Drought, climate change, and land management practices have made dust storms more common in some regions, such as the southwestern United States. A study found that the frequency of major dust storms in the Southwest more than doubled between 1990 and 2011.

A driver drives through a sandstorm near Phillipsburg, Kansas, on January 14, 2021.  (Charlie Riedel / AP)

A driver drives through a sandstorm near Phillipsburg, Kansas, on January 14, 2021. (Charlie Riedel / AP)

In some areas, such as the eastern United States, more rainfall could be a risk-reducing factor, but experts say sporadic droughts and heavy agricultural use could reduce local rainfall in these locations. Sandstorms can swirl almost unnoticed and can startle drivers unfamiliar with the dangers of these storms.

“Dust storms can occur anywhere in the country, not just desert weather phenomena,” says Tong. “It can come from farms, school playgrounds, or even people’s backyards. .”

The states with the most frequent dust storms and the highest number of deaths are Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, according to the Meteorological Society report. Illinois was an outlier. He’s the only two deaths from dust counted by the state, both of which he had in 2017.

“A prolonged period of dry, warm weather in early April dried up to eight inches of topsoil, turning it dry and dusty,” says Trent Ford, an Illinois climatologist. and Monday’s very strong winds blew the top layer into the air, a real shame as it sits along one of the busiest highways.”

Phoenix Dust Storm (Amanda Lee/AP File)

Phoenix Dust Storm (Amanda Lee/AP File)

Tom Gill, a professor of environmental science and engineering programs at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the main components of dust are usually drought, land disturbance and wind.

Agricultural land without irrigation is a common source of dust storms.

Ford said he doesn’t necessarily believe climate change was a factor in Monday’s crash, as climate change has largely caused growing season wetting and flooding in Illinois. said the issue was unique to Illinois and may have contributed to the problem. He pointed out that climate change is indeed a contributing factor to dust storms in the West, where they occur predominantly.

Shrinking and empty lakes are a major contributor to dust pollution in western states.

Last fall, water levels in the Great Salt Lake fell to record lows, exposing much of the lakebed and creating conditions for dust storms laden with toxic metals, currently killing two million people living nearby. of people are at risk.

In California, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power rate payers have taken at least 25 million dollars to control dust emissions at Owens Lake, which is emitted by utilities and was once the largest source of anthropogenic dust in the United States. I’ve spent billions of dollars.

Dust can affect your health. Exposure to dust particles can cause respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, and fungal infections. Dust can carry heavy metals and other toxins into people’s homes and lungs. Dust-related deaths from illness or infection were not included in the American Meteorological Society study report.

“Inhaling airborne particles and entering the respiratory tract and lungs causes irritation, whether toxic or not,” Gill said. “It adds to the burden of air pollution.”

Paramedics at the scene of a pile of cars during a dust storm on Interstate 55 in Illinois on May 1, 2023. (Nathan Cormier)

Paramedics at the scene of a pile of cars during a dust storm on Interstate 55 in Illinois on May 1, 2023. (Nathan Cormier)

Dust storms are becoming more common in the southwest, but other areas may experience fewer dust storms as overall precipitation continues to increase. However, the threat may still exist. Gill and others explore the impact of instantaneous droughts, where extreme temperatures rapidly scorch landscapes during periods of change, and how those patterns affect regions of the United States that are generally wetter and have high agricultural use. I am concerned about how it will affect

Dust storms are responsible for other deadly highway pileups. According to Tong’s research, between 2007 and his 2017, he had six such crashes involving semi-trucks, five of which were on Interstate 10 in New Mexico and Arizona. It happened on his two sections of the line.

The state has responded to storms along its corridors with dust abatement efforts, which more states should implement, Tong said.

“Now is the time to think about adopting new land management and air quality measures that are being implemented in several western states,” he said. “For example, we need to consider the impact of agricultural tillage on air quality and health. I need to see if.”

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