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Historic dust storm sweeps Arizona, turns day into night

Motorists drive along Interstate-10 during a dust storm in Phoenix
Motorists drive along Interstate-10 during a dust storm in Phoenix

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Phoenix brushed itself off and returned to normal on Wednesday after a "historic dust storm" swept over the area, sending residents scrambling for cover, halting drivers and delaying flights.

Day turned into night as the billowy plumes of dust rolled over the mountains and clogged the skies over and around Phoenix in the late afternoon and into the evening on Tuesday, according to meteorologists.

"A very large and historic dust storm moved through a large swatch of Arizona," the National Weather Service office in Phoenix said in a statement posted on its website, calling it an "impressive event."

Residents rushed inside as sand from the storm blasted the area in winds of up to 50 miles per hour, NWS reported. Near zero visibility forced drivers to stop on area roads until the worst of the storm passed.

Flights at Sky Harbor International Airport returned to normal on Wednesday after the storm caused interruptions on Tuesday evening with a few flights canceled, some diverted to other airports and a dozen delayed, said airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez.

A barrage of dust set off fire alarms in the terminal but crews quickly cleared the mess from the storm, known as a "haboob," she said.

Weather experts say haboobs frequently occur during the summer monsoon season in the southwest United States.

That's when thunderstorms produce downdrafts that can kick up dry, loose sand on the dessert floor, creating a wall of dust that travels outward, spanning a much larger area than the thunderstorm itself, according to Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews on Accuweather.com.

The storm that struck Phoenix was described as "miles long and moving fast," according to Accuweather.com.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jerry Norton )

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