A haboob by any other name

Once you get past the Arizona phobia against foreign things, the dust-up created by the use of the term “haboob” by meteorologists is worth considering.

The New York Times, riffing off a series of letters to the Arizona Republic newspaper, says the use of “haboob” to describe the dust storms that have plagued the state this summer is causing plenty of angst:


Dust storms are a regular summer phenomenon in Arizona, and the news media typically label them as nothing more than that. But the National Weather Service, in describing this month’s particularly thick storm, used the term haboob, which was widely picked up by the news media.

“Meteorologists in the Southwest have used the term for decades,” said Randy Cerveny, a climatologist at Arizona State University. “The media usually avoid it because they don’t think anyone will understand it.”

Well, yeah. Because a dust storm by any other name is still a dust storm. Why not just call it what it is and spare the meteorologicalspeak?

A haboob is a particularly intense dust storm, not unlike what you might call a “big honkin’ dust storm.”

Years ago, we referred to tornadoes as “tornadoes,” not “tornadaic activity.” Last week, a local meteorologist tweeted, “tornado vortex signature (TVS) near Milaca.” Vortex. Latin. Don’t try that in Arizona.

We don’t get tornadoes and thunderstorms anymore. We get approaching bow echoes or hook echoes. I forget which is which, which is why they’re lousy ways to tell us what’s coming.

That, of course, is an entirely different issue than the xenophobia that some of the letters seem to betray.

Excuse me, Mr. Weatherman!

Who gave you the right to use the word “haboob” in describing our recent dust storm?

While you may think there are similarities, don’t forget that in these parts our dust is mixed with the whoop of the Indian’s dance, the progression of the cattle herd and warning of the rattlesnake as it lifts its head to strike.

We have our own culture, too, sir, and we don’t take kindly to being robbed of it. – Diane Robinson, Wickenburg

Why does it surprise Arizonans when our legal aliens (non-natives) call dust storms haboobs?

These are the same strangers who have made no attempt to learn how to pronounce state names and landmarks given to us by our pioneers, Native Americans and Hispanic cultures, ranging back hundreds of years.

We can help by correcting the average newcomer.

But when the media throw out these mangled attempts to the masses, we have to put our foot down.

I say tie them to a wagon wheel and run ‘em off the Mogollon Rim. – Bill West, Tempe

I remember I first heard the word in a weather report about 15 years ago. A self-satisfied young reporter said on TV that a haboob had hit the East Valley.

I figured it was the reporter’s way of distinguishing himself from the pack. I laughed at his use of fancy words to describe a good old-fashioned dust storm.

Ha boob!

As any longtime Arizonan can attest, there is nothing better to a kid than to see a dust storm approach and to run out and meet it.

We’d jump, yell and scrunch up our face so that the dust would gather in the wrinkles. We could hold our hand in front of our face and not be able to see it. Arizona dust storms were a thing of wonder.

Now, “haboob” has been imposed on us, and we can do nothing about it.

Just check the headline on Tuesday’s Valley & State section, “Haboobs hit again.”

Haboob doesn’t even sound pretty. – Mary C. Leon, Phoenix

  • kurt

    Haboob’s make me titter.

  • ellie

    Origin of tornado:

    1550–60; apparently by metathesis

  • Vivian

    Haboob sounds more biblical for those the-end-is- near folks, vomiting-armegeddon types to stir in their pot of unwarranted hysteria.

    So once Haboob has passed, does an Arizonan say they have been Habobbed?