Not a good day to be outside

I mentioned already yesterday’s savage winds.  Despite my flippancy, the storm made for quite an afternoon.

The strongest wind gust in the DFW area was about 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour).  Sustained winds hovered near there early in the day but finally calmed as night approached.  It’s still windy today and remained so overnight; just nothing like yesterday.

The tempest and subsequent dust storm riding on its back wreaked havoc on local airports.  Hundreds of flights were canceled, one plane trying to land at Love Field was blown off the runway, and those planes that did make it into the area reported major problems and concerns while trying to land.  One flight at DFW airport overshot the runway and almost wound up duplicating the Love Field event.

I lost power early in the afternoon and didn’t get it back until early evening.  While I don’t know the final tally, I do know the first report indicated almost 100,000 people were without power due to falling trees and downed power lines.

And there was structural damage.  Some buildings in downtown Dallas had windows blown out, roofs were torn from houses throughout the area, traffic lights were blown from their perches and cast into the streets like so much refuse, and on and on it went.

At its worse, visibility was about a quarter of a mile (less than half a kilometer).

And woe was the person who stood outside too long.  xocobra got it right when he said it felt like “sand peeling the skin off my face.”  Sand and dust from desert areas blew in on gale winds of tropical storm strength, and that meant being out in it was like standing in front of a sand blaster.  Only a few seconds were needed to be covered with it, left gritty and assaulted.

Breathing it likewise carried its own torment.  Covering my mouth and nose helped with the larger particulate matter; not so much help with the fine dust also in the air.  Any time outside left me with the taste of dirt in my mouth and the smell of it in my nose.

The worst part was that there seemed to be no way to protect my eyes.  I don’t happen to have any sealed goggles readily available.  Sunglasses minimized the direct attacks, yet they couldn’t stop it entirely.

In spite of my own protestations to the contrary, I did go outside to capture a few photographs of the event.  Keep in mind taking pictures in a virulent dust storm is equivalent to taking pictures in heavy fog.  With limited visibility, there’s limited scenery.

Besides, I minimized how long I stood out in it for the reasons I’ve already noted.  I also didn’t think it was wise to keep the camera out in that soup for extended periods of time.  Considering the grit and grime left on and in me, I can only imagine what it would have done to the camera had I lollygagged about as though I had not a care in the world.

I didn’t stray far from home.  I walked to the nearest parking lot where I could get a clearer view—but also where I was as close to home as possible and could make a rapid escape back to the safety of indoors.

The first thing I noticed—and I’m sure the first thing everyone noticed—was the color of the sky.

A major dust storm blowing in turned the sky a ruddy color (170_7085)

Brushed with the ruddy, rusty hue of sand dunes at dusk, the sky darkened at midday as the first damask wave moved by and its older and redder cousin leaped upon the world.

There was a feel to the event, something akin to a surprise visit by the in-laws.  No one in Texas expects meteorologists to get it right most of the time.  In fact, most denizens of the state are probably surprised if forecasts are accurate too often.  That’s just not how the weather works here.  Nevertheless, major storms blowing in from the west almost always bring with them major dust storms from the desert.  That’s so normal that I was surprised no one mentioned it until it was practically upon us.  That meant it startled most people with its ferocity and suddenness.

The dust storm turned midafternoon as dark as early evening (170_7098)

The depth and density of the storm blotted out the day’s light during the afternoon when the sun was high in the heavens.  Midday became night, but not a normal night.  It became night colored in oxblood.

Despite taking that photo shortly after two in the afternoon, standing there looking at the scene take shape made me feel as though I’d misplaced some of the day, that my Saturday was already drawing to a close.

Finally, to give a bit of relative correlation on how bad the dust and sand actually were, here’s a picture looking across the parking lot.  The red truck was no more than 25 yards (23 meters) from me, and the fence and trees in the background were no more than 50 yards (46 meters) from me.

The parking lot shaded and shadowed by a dust storm (171_7101)

I can’t say how much dirt restlessly mingled with the air between my position and those distant objects.  I can say it was quite a bit, a heavy blanket of thick atmosphere that could be tasted and smelled and felt—and even chewed, that gritty crunch between my teeth that evokes feelings of eating dirt.

In the end, the storm passed as quickly as it arrived, hanging around for several hours between arrival and departure.  The sky turned a beautiful blue that quickly faded in twilight to an indigo evening.  Unfortunately, the sun already had made its journey across the sky by the time the dust cleared.

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