New technology ready to detect dust storms this monsoon

Posted at 3:05 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 21:43:54-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Monsoon storms bring thunder, lightning and heavy rain, but strong winds can also kick up dust and create destruction on the roads.

Brand new dust detection technology is being used for the first time this monsoon to keep drivers safe on I-10.

Powerful winds from thunderstorms can send up walls of dust that block out the sun and can leave drivers blinded on the roadway.

“That can be very dangerous for anyone who dares to travel through them. That is why we tell people to pull aside, stay alive and do not drive through those areas of blowing dust,” said National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Ken Drozd.

He says if you see a dust storm coming, pull over and turn off your lights so other drivers do not run into you.

“They see oh that’s where I’m supposed to drive because they can’t see and then they run into the back of you.”

A multi-million-dollar dust detection warning system is being used for the first time this monsoon. Several visibility sensors and a radar site have been installed in the dust and crash prone area between Eloy and Picacho Peak on I-10.


“Variable speed limit signs, speed feedback signs, overhead message boards,” said Arizona Department of Transportation spokesperson Garin Groff.

Groff says the location of the system allows for better surveillance and more advanced warning of what could be blowing in. The system is automated to give drivers real time information.

“That triggers the variable speed limit signs and will also automate the overhead message boards to warn drivers of reduced visibility and blowing dust.”

Drozd says it will give meteorologists a better picture of the situation on the ground.

“How thick is the dust? How dangerous is it? Is it zero visibility or .25 miles? Whatever the case may be.”

And drivers will get the warning they need.

“Putting all these pieces together will result in better dust storm warnings is really the goal,” said Drozd.

Monsoon: Most frequently asked questions, answered