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UA students working to enhance weather advisories with dust research

Posted at 6:49 AM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 09:49:53-04

TUSON, Ariz. — Its no secret that with living in the desert, comes dust storms. A team of undergraduate researchers at the University of Arizona are looking into what exact conditions cause dust to lift from the soil.

"Every year these dust storms out in Picacho Peak area actually have fatalities, because the visibility from the dust coming up can go from complete visibility to zero visibility within minutes," said Ruby O'Brien Metzger, a third year mechanical engineering major.

What O'Brien Metzger and Reman Almusawi, a third year civil engineering major, do in their research, is find the wind speed that starts to kick up dust. They also examine the types of soils that can contribute to a dust storm. They've found the wind speed range that starts to create dust is between 10 to 20 mph.

"A lot of people think that with a little bit of wind, there's going to be a little bit of dust. And with a lot of wind, that will make a lot of dust," said O'Brien Metzger.

But what they found, is with a little bit of wind up to a certain point there can be no dust. Once there is enough wind for even a little dust to start, it can continue and become a dust storm. Even at 20 mph wind speeds.

"The interesting parts are actually when you come back and sit at the computer and make your graphs and what you're getting starts to make sense, or even when it doesn't make sense. You're like, oh wow this is not common sense, this is not what people would think. Such as with the high wind speeds," said Almusawi.

The team hopes the conclusions of their research will enhance future weather advisories.

"We're actually starting to get into studying how humidity effects it. So in order to properly say a storm is going to come out and how its going to effect, you have to study the weather beforehand," said Almusawi.

The research team has all of the data they need to publish a paper right now, but told KGUN9 that they still have another study they want to dive into before they officially publish.