Owner system

Radar system used to help detect dust storms, warn Arizona drivers

For drivers who have been caught in a dust storm, they know it can reduce visibility to almost zero in an instant.

Awe-inspiring dust walls are so common in the Phoenix and Tucson areas that the Arizona Department of Transportation recently installed a dust detection system along a section of Interstate 10 that connects the two cities. .

From May 2020 to April 2021, the driest 12 months since 1895 in Arizona. With little precipitation to saturate the soil, combined with more than normal dry land, dust storms can form if the wind is blowing enough. Winds from strong thunderstorms can also trigger a dust storm.

“The dust storm looks like a special effect from a movie,” Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Garin Groff said. “Storms can be a mile high and tens of miles wide.”

Although this weather phenomenon can be fascinating to observe, it can be very dangerous for drivers.

State transportation officials looked at the accident history of the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson and found that about half of the crashes occur on a 10-mile stretch prone to dust storms. typical dust detection system for this section of the highway.

A grant from the Federal Highway Administration was obtained to help fund the $ 72 million project, which also included widening I-10 and improving the State Route 87 interchange.

“All of the technologies, individually, exist and have been proven to work, but no one has ever put them together and packaged them this way,” Groff said.

A radar system can detect storms over 40 miles away. When the blown dust arrives, 13 sensors along the I-10 stretch use the light to determine the density of the dust. These sensors can automatically trigger the alert system.

Warnings are posted on notice boards above freeways and are combined with digital variable speed limit signs to slow traffic from 75 mph to just 35 mph.

The hope is that drivers can navigate the dusty section more safely by reducing the speed of traffic.

“That’s the whole point of it – slowing drivers down when it’s dusty,” Groff said.

However, there are times when the visibility is so low that you simply shouldn’t be driving. In these cases, drivers must stop on the side of the road, turn off the car and release the brake. You’re basically hiding on the freeway by following these steps, so other drivers don’t mistakenly follow your taillights and hit you.

Dust storms usually pass in 15-20 minutes, so you can get around safely.

Read this story and more on FOX Weather

Road condition

  • Call 511 anywhere in Arizona or 1-888-411-ROAD (7623)
  • az511.com

Other stories from Top Arizona

Watch the FOX weather live

Tune in to FOX 10 Phoenix for the latest news

For the latest local news, download the FOX 10 News app