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KGUN 9 Tucson News

Dust storms can stop drivers, farmers in their tracks

By Ryan Fish,


Arnoldo Burruel knows the open fields north of Tucson are prone to walls of blowing dust, especially during Monsoon.

“I started farming here in Marana and up in Eloy in 1987,” he said. “The harsh winds [during dust storms] are hard on the crops. We don’t like to see that.”

But Burruel says dust storms are a much bigger threat to people, a threat that grows as Marana urbanizes and grows.

“When the wind is blowing hard—especially like a lot of the ground that I farm, which is in close proximity to roads, to I-10—we shut down. We shut down production,” he said.

“And sometimes those winds may last for days or a week. Just because you don’t want to exasperate the situation by having the dust of your cultivation practices going across the road, being a potential hazard to drivers.”

That’s especially a risk between Tucson and Phoenix, where Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Garin Groff met with KGUN.

“The city really covers up a lot of the loose soil, where here, there’s almost nothing to cover up that loose soil and all the dust that’s been sitting on top of it,” he explained.

Along a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 10 between Eloy and Picacho Peak, ADOT invested $6.5 million in a dust detection and warning system that debuted in 2020. It includes a variable speed limit corridor with digital speed limit signs.

Monsoon is peak season for dust storms, but the system operates year-round.

“We’ve had anywhere from 10 to about 18 activations per year in the three years that this has been operating,” said Groff. “We have 13 visibility sensors, and when they detect that the dust is reducing visibility, the system will automatically lower the speed limit and put up safety messages on the overhead message boards.”

Speed limits can drop from 75 miles per hour to as low as 35 mph during dust storms.

“We know that the system is working as designed because we have sensors in the roadway… Traffic does actually slow down so vehicles can pass through this area more safely,” said Groff.

But ADOT’s advice for drivers caught in a dust storm is to stop driving; they say to pull over, turn off the ignition and take a foot off the brake to turn off brake lights, so other cars don’t follow behind and drive into the car.

Just like drivers on the road, Burruel says farmers need to be patient when Arizona’s weather gets wild.

“We’ll just take what Mother Nature throws at us,” he said. “We always do.”

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter .

Catch the KGUN 9 Special Presentation: CHANGING PATTERNS - MONSOON 2023 here on our site, or your favorite streaming device.

We take a look at dust storm dangers, tag along with storm chasers & a swift water rescue team, dive into keeping you and your family safe during a storm, and examine what we can expect for monsoon this year.

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