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Dust Storm in Iraq
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Dust Storm in Iraq

August 12, 2010
Swirls of pale tan dust blanket southeastern Iraq, forming thick, billowing clouds that obscure land, water and cities in this true-color image captured by the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on July 29, 2010. The ferocious storm stretches into Saudi Arabia to the southwest, Iran to the east, and sends a large plume of dust across Kuwait and into the Persian Gulf.

The dust is dramatically thick in the center of the storm, rising with turbulence in the atmosphere to create puffy dark tan billows which can be seen clearly in the center of the image. In other areas, the tan of the dust matches the color of the land, forming a veil that is best discerned by what cannot be seen rather than the features of the storm itself.

The city of Basra lies to the north of the Persian Gulf, with Al Bussayyah roughly 100 miles to the west. Following the dark line of the Tigris River to the north, lies the city of Baghdad, a bit more than 200 miles from Basra. The Euphrates River runs to the west of the Tigris. On a clear day, each of these features can be seen on satellite images. On this image they are all obscured. Northern portions of the Tigris and Euphrates reappear in the arid tan-colored lands to the north and west, signaling the edge of the storm.

July and August are the hottest and driest months of the year in Iraq. Temperatures can reach more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. From mid-June through September, a northwest wind— the shamal—blows almost constantly. Periodically the winds intensify to the 15 knots (about 17 mph) generally required to whisk dust off the ground. On the day of the image, a high temperature of 46.4 °C (115.5°F) was reported in Baghdad, with wind gusts of up to 18.4 miles per hour. As evidenced by the swirling pattern of dust,and by the streaks flowing in a northwest to southwesterly direction, the wind direction was variable in some locations.


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