May 27, 2021

Dust Storms on Both Sides of the Cascades

 You start with a late spring day after fields have been plowed for a number of crops.

You add a relatively dry spring, with rainfall less than 50% of normal over most of the region.

And you throw in strong winds, gusting to 40-70 mph in some places.

The result:  blowing dust, obscured roads, and even some visibility-related accidents.

Eastern Washington

There is dust blowing right now around the Tri-Cities and around I90 from roughly Moses Lake to Spokane.   Check out this video from WA State Trooper C. Thorson (click on the link) taken in Richard (I82 and Dallas Rd).  Make sure you have the sound on!

Or check out this WSDOT cam in Davenport--pretty hazy.

The visible satellite picture at 4PM clearly shows the dust--- I put on an arrow to make it clear.  The blowing dust is a light brown color.

Now springtime dust storms are not that unusual in eastern Washington.  Unfortunately, it happens every year.

Western Washington

But less usual are dust storms in western Washington.  Dan McShane sent me some pictures around the Skagit Delta, which really got my attention. He graciously allowed me to share them with you.

Here is a recently plowed field that is blowing away.

And clearly, visibility is being seriously degraded in this shot.

The big issue is wind and there is a pretty impressive wind event going on across BOTH eastern and western WA right now.

Here are the maximum winds today for the 24h ending 4 PM (click on image to expand).  In western WA, a number of locations had gusts to 30-40 mph, and even up to 50 mph in places.  40-50 mph are common in eastern Washington this afternoon in the Columbia Basin and near the Oregon/WA border.

Zooming in to around the Tri-Cities, several observing sites got to 70 mph!  The winner gusted to 77 mph.

These strong winds are associated with a strong springtime low center that passed north of Washington, producing a large north-south pressure difference (or gradient )....see below. 

 Here is the sea level pressure forecast for 1 PM, with solid lines being isobars...lines of constant pressure.  In the mountainous west, winds tend to blow from higher to lower pressure and that is what is happening this afternoon.  The winds are from the south to southwest.

The surface wind gust forecast for 5 PM today is quite impressive, with lots of eastern Washington getting to 35 knots or more (green and blue colors).  No wonder the dust is blowing.

The winds are strong enough that thousand of customers have lost their power (see below), with fully leafed out trees contributing to the problem.

 Enjoy the wind and be prepared for a warm and dry Memorial Day weekend.  Many of you west of the Cascade crest will experience 80F by Monday, while Richland and envions will soar to over 100F.


  1. This being yesterday, were you aware of a squall that blew through at least Tacoma late yesterday afternoon, with heavy showers lasting for at least another couple of hours after that. I think it sprinkled off and on during the day, then the strong rain showers later.

  2. I'm glad the wind was light to dead calm while I was over near Othello shooting the lunar eclipse on Wednesday morning.

    My telescope mount would not do well with a 2m focal length optical tube and 50 mph winds!


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