How Many People Were Killed by Dust Storms in the United States?
Windblown dust events are natural phenomena characterized by the interaction of wind with particles such as sand and soil. These events manifest in various forms, including dust storms, haboobs, and dust devils. These events regularly cause issues with visibility and air quality and result in a variety of economic and health problems, and in many years claiming more lives than some well-known extreme weather phenomena like thunderstorms and hurricanes. However, they are often disregarded due to their locality and seemingly low hazard perception, largely due to issues in accurately reporting the injuries and deaths related to dust events.
Many official databases, such as NOAA’s Natural Hazard Statistics and Storm Events Database (SED) significantly miss many fatalities. Thus, we verified and merged SED and the DOT’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database, detailing all police-reported crash incidents, in order to create a wider and more accurate dataset of windblown dust fatalities from 1957 to 2021, following a method developed by Tong et al. (2023). Additionally, we compiled additional database-specific details to enhance the reliability and completeness of the dataset.
FARS data alone reported a total of 290 fatalities between 2007 and 2021, a significantly larger figure than that reported by SED, confirming the accuracy of the merged dataset. In addition, Dust events are most prevalent in the American Southwest and Midwestern states, particularly in dry plains areas.
Our study highlights the underappreciated impacts of windblown dust events, shedding light on their true significance in terms of human and environmental health.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.