Dust in the wind

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"You could kind of hear a faint roar, and it would get real quiet," a 76-year-old Texas woman said as she described one of the many dust storms she witnessed as a youngster. "Birds were alarmed. They could sense something was coming up."

With all this talk of hurricanes, wildfires and tsunamis, there's one natural disaster that's fallen out of the limelight recently: the dust storm. In the 1930s, thanks to a drought and poor planting techniques that left lots of topsoil exposed and vulnerable to winds, walls of black and yellow-brown dust rolled across the Great Plains. Breathing became a chore. Children donned dust masks to go and from school and wet sheets were used to try to stop dust from getting into homes. Farmers looked on in despair as crops blew away. And if you think it couldn't happen again, check this out: NASA is conducting a study that points to slight temperature changes in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans as the ultimate cause of the drought -- and thus, the dust storms.

Here are some striking pictures of a modern dust storm, moving at 60 mph, in Al Asad, Iraq, circa 2005.

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October 12, 2006 - 6:00am
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