Blinding Arizona dust storm ushers in 2014 monsoon

Posted at 1:54 PM, Jul 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-04 13:54:24-04

Phoenix, AZ (KPHO) — Wind gusts of more than 50 miles per hour tore down trees and cut power to 25,200 utility customers across the Valley on Thursday night as the first dust storm of the 2014 monsoon barreled in with a blast.

The storm provided fireworks of its own, toppling power lines, blanketing neighborhoods with choking dust and unleashing downpours in certain areas.

The Phoenix area was under an hours-long dust storm warning that was set to expire at 10 p.m.

The warning covered other communities, too, such as Buckeye, New River, Wickenburg and Mesa, CBS 5 chief meteorologist Chris Dunn said.

Sky Harbor International Airport reported a wind gust of 56 mph at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Takeoffs and landings were suspended between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Operations resumed shortly after 8:30 and by 8:45 p.m., all three runways were open.

At least 24 inbound flights were diverted to other airports during the storm. Anyone planning to pick up a passenger at Sky Harbor on Thursday night should check the flight status with the airline. During the storm there were at least three cancellations.

At 9:45 p.m., Arizona Public Service reported 11,000 of its customers were without power. Salt River Project had roughly 14,200 customers in the dark.

Workers scrambled to cover-up the fireworks in Ahwatukee. The storm forced the cancellation of Ahwatukee’s “Red, White and Boom” Fourth of July event.

At the Maryvale Baseball Park, the community’s “Light Up the Sky” fireworks display was called off due to the heavy rain and high winds.

Ironically, while some areas in the West Valley were drenched, there was only a trace reported at the National Weather Service’s reporting station at Sky Harbor, Dunn said. That extends the rainless streak to 123 days and counting, he said.

The Peoria Police Department reported a road closure due to flooding on Union Hills Drive between 99th and 111th avenues.

Phoenix firefighters were battling a gigantic blaze at 40th Street and Indian School Road. It was apparently sparked by downed power lines.

A weather spotter for the National Weather Service reported five 12-inch trees down in southeast Gilbert.

Near Wildhorse Pass and the outlet mall, fierce winds blew around cans and bins and other debris. It even knocked down a CBS 5 News news camera and tripod.

In less than two hours, temperatures in Phoenix dropped from 106 to 79 degrees as the wall of dust swallowed the Valley, Dunn said.

Salt River Project reported outages in the following areas:

35th Avenue to Seventh Avenue and Lower Buckeye to Baseline – 1,422 customers out
16th Street to 48th Street and Indian School to Van Buren – 2,061 customers out
40th Street to 56th Street and Indian School to Van Buren – 2,233 customers out
Country Club to Gilbert and Baseline to Broadway – 603 customers out
Power to Thompson and Queen Creek to Skyline Drive – 505 customers out
A large wall of blowing dust was reported around 5:30 p.m. moving northwest from Marana. It traveled northwest through the Santa Cruz River Valley toward Phoenix.

The Valley will experience a break in the very hot weather by the Fourth of July as a shift to the monsoon weather pattern starts to take over.

Moisture will continue to move in from the south and the east and eventually provide enough fuel for thunderstorms across the Valley.

More than likely, these storms will start to pop up the evening and night of July Fourth.

Thursday will bring thunderstorms, but the activity will likely stay outside of the Phoenix Metro area. The outflow winds from these storms could cause dust to kick up in the Valley, leaving Pinal and Maricopa counties with dense blowing dust and poor air quality in areas.

The storms will be isolated, so don’t go canceling plans. However, be aware there will be some storms around and areas of gusty wind and blowing dust is a possibility once again.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in Phoenix has issued a high pollution advisory.

People are encouraged to avoid outdoor activities, especially children, the elderly and anyone with respiratory problems.

Relative humidity is also on the rise as moisture continues to creep in from the east. Dew points will be in the 50s by Friday.

Temperatures will remain above average on Thursday but expect slightly cooler temperatures on Friday.

Not only could the Valley see isolated thunderstorms pop up during Fourth of July celebrations Friday evening, there will be more storm activity over the next several days, including this weekend.

Remember the monsoon is a season, not an individual storm, that is defined as a shift in the weather pattern. In our case, that shift brings in moist air which is fuel for thunderstorms.