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Old 07-01-2022, 10:24 AM   #1
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Dust Devils

Living in southern Arizona means that it is common for me to see dust devils when driving, especially when the surrounding area is relatively flat. I generally see them to the side of the road on flat sandy or dusty plains and I have never paid much attention to them, but not too ago I saw one in the middle of the Interstate highway I was driving on. Actually a couple of hundred yards in front of me in my traffic lane.

I did not worry - this was a very small dust devil, perhaps 20 feet across, and I could easily see through it, so I just kept driving. That turned out to be a mistake as it nearly pushed me into the other lane. If a very small, almost baby, dust devil can have winds that strong I thought I ought to warn others to be wary of them if you see them on the highway.

Had this been a big dust devil I might have stopped to let it pass, although that might also be a mistake if it hit me when I was stopped. I am not sure what the best thing to do is when seeing one of them, but I did want to warn people that they apparently harbor very strong winds and can do serious damage if they hit your RV. We were fortunate and had no damage, but it was only a baby one. A larger one might have caused serious issues.
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Old 07-01-2022, 10:39 AM   #2
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Yeah, you want to avoid those. We used to live in Tucson and we would run into them from time to time. They're rarely strong enough to cause any damage, but it'll give you a good scare if you're driving your RV and come across one. Best to slow down and let it go. They usually don't last more than a minute.
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Old 07-01-2022, 12:06 PM   #3
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One time we were staying in Winslow AZ for a week. We just got out of the truck when a dust devil appeared on the other side of the truck. I quickly told DW to close her eyes and put her face into her hands. By that time dust/sand was stinging my face and before I could get my hands to my face the dust devil was gone.
That was in the RV park, not out in an open area.
On that same trip, somewhere East of Winslow on the interstate, we encountered a huge dust storm. When I saw it approaching ahead (from the South) I was fortunate enough to be near an exit. I took the exit and pulled behind an abandoned building for shelter from the wind and dirt.


Here in Indiana I've seen them appear in plowed fields, gravel parking lots, and on paved parking lots whirling bits of trash around.
Now, what is the difference between a dust devil, tornado, water-spout; they all have the same wind action?
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Old 07-01-2022, 02:15 PM   #4
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Now, what is the difference between a dust devil, tornado, water-spout; they all have the same wind action?
Until I drove through that dust devil I thought that they were just minor inconveniences and had winds of perhaps 20 mph, but apparently the winds are much higher than that. A Google search says that the dust devil winds can reach 60 mph, and the small one I drove through was almost enough to force me into the adjacent lane.

I now assume that dust devils are really small tornados, and so I have much more respect for them.
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Old 07-01-2022, 02:22 PM   #5
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I had one destroy my awning a few years ago out in the desert. I had seen the dust devil in the distance, maybe a quarter mile away and didn't pay it much attention - next thing I knew it was on us, broke one arm of the awning and twisted the other like a piece of taffy. Whole thing was over in less than a minute.
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Old 07-01-2022, 02:23 PM   #6
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... and then there are the Arizona haboobs. You definitely don't want to try & drive through one. We were in one on the interstate. Scary. You need to pull off the highway so no one hits you but you can't see what's on the side of the highway! I'd never live in Casa Grande!!

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Old 07-01-2022, 05:11 PM   #7
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I hit a dust devil on Interstate 80 in Nevada. It threw me to the right and then to the left all in a second.

I was going about 60mph and had no way of dodging it. Pretty exciting stuff.

It didn't damage my coach in any way, guess I was lucky about that.
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Old 07-01-2022, 09:11 PM   #8
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yeah, that's when the 'devil' part of dust devil comes into play.
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Old 07-01-2022, 09:13 PM   #9
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yeah, that's where the 'devil' in the dust devil comes into play
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Old 07-01-2022, 09:37 PM   #10
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Thumbs down Never fun...

If you think they are scary in a motorhome imagine how much fun they aren't... on a motorcycle.

Don't ask me how I know.
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Old 07-01-2022, 09:40 PM   #11
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If you think they are scary in a motorhome imagine how much fun they aren't... on a motorcycle.

Don't ask me how I know.
Did you crash?

As much as it blew my coach around I can't imagine what it would have been like on a motorcycle.
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Old 07-02-2022, 09:13 AM   #12
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Unhappy Almost...

No I did not crash but came as close as I ever cared to. Until we moved up to the mountains {Payson, 100 miles north of Phoenix at 5,000'} we lived just north of Tucson and I logged 100K+ miles over 8 years riding motorcycles throughout the southwest.

I often encountered dust devils, especially during the Monsoon but most of the time we were not on a collision course. When you see them tracking alongside the highway/interstate you can usually adjust your speed to stay behind or get ahead. The ones that will get you are the those that form very quickly dramatically reducing your available reaction time.

I have been blown around a number of times and quickly learned that any wind over 35 mph, particularly when they are gusting higher can be a serious problem. On more than one occasion I have had my bike {an 875# Indian Springfield} literally blown across two lanes of traffic in about half a nanosecond. A couple of times my bride was with me and bike and riders weighed nearly 1,200#. Fortunately I have been able to keep it up but attribute that as much to luck as experience/skill.

When traveling in our 24' Class C, usually towing our 6 X 10' {8' tall} cargo trailer I just get off the road when wind speeds get to 35 as gust of 50+ become a serious possibility.

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Old 07-02-2022, 02:38 PM   #13
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No I did not crash but came as close as I ever cared to. Until we moved up to the mountains {Payson, 100 miles north of Phoenix at 5,000'} we lived just north of Tucson and I logged 100K+ miles over 8 years riding motorcycles throughout the southwest.
Some years ago I drove through El Paso in a Jeep pulling a small TT and ran into the winds coming off of the mountains to the north. I thought those were bad, and they nearly pushed the TT into the adjacent lane, but they were nothing compared to running into the dust devil. For a split second I thought it was going to topple us over onto our side, but fortunately we were through it before anything really happened. I can not imagine running into one on a motorcycle.

We are up in the Payson area frequently since we boondock on The Rim (Little Green Valley and Black Canyon Lake areas) to get out of the heat here in the valley, but I have never seen a dust devil up there. I would have thought that it was too wooded without enough open areas for them to form, although the road from Heber-Overgaard to Holbrook looks like you might see them there.
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Old 07-02-2022, 02:55 PM   #14
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I grew up part of my childhood in Odessa, TX and we frequently had small dust devils. The kids would chase after them and run through them. The larger ones we avoided.

Ken
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