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Wall of sand engulfs Tehran.

An extreme storm with winds reaching hurricane force descended suddenly on Tehran late Monday afternoon, uprooting trees, snarling traffic and killing five people.

The storm was a freak. It developed very quickly and suddenly enveloped Tehran, turning daylight into darkness just after 5 p.m. local time. But the dangerous part of the storm passed over in about 15 minutes.

While reports were incomplete, it appeared that most if not all of the deaths were caused by people being hit by falling trees or by pieces of buildings blown off by the high winds.

Around 40 injuries were also reported, many from traffic accidents during the storm. A major pile up of about 20 cars was reported just south of Tehran on the highway to Qom.

The storm was not a hurricane, although wind speeds reached hurricane force. Hurricanes are unknown in Iran and don't develop over land. But the highest recorded wind speed was 130 kph (80 mph). Hurricane force begins at 116 kph (74 mph).

The strange event was generally described locally as a sandstorm. But it was not that either. It is what is called a haboob (Arabic for blasting) in the Middle East. These begin as a thunderstorm. The storm's downdrafts smash into the desert floor and lift up a great quantity of sand, which rises as a solid wall and is pushed forward by the wind.

One of the accompanying photos shows the giant wall as it descended on Tehran. This is not a normal sandstorm in which winds continuously pick up sand, which then moves as a cloud, not a wall.

The storm caused a rapid plunge in temperature. At 5 p.m., the temperature was 91F (33C) with a moderate breeze. At 5:30, the temperature was down to 73F (23C) with sustained winds of 89 kph (55 mph), which is called a whole gale by weathermen. At 6 p.m., the temperature had dropped to 66F (19C) and winds had fallen to a sustained level of 56 kph (35 mph), which is called a moderate gale.

Ninety minutes after it began, the storm was effectively over, though downed trees blocked many streets and traffic was snarled at many points round the city.

Tehran air traffic controllers diverted several flights to other cities. The Iranian Students News Agency said power had been cut to around 50,000 homes, a small number in a city the size of Tehran.

But the haboob that hit Tehran was not the only painful weather to hit Iran in recent days. Three days earlier, on Friday, heavy rains generated floods in the Fariman district of Khorasan Rezavi province that killed three women, according to the local disaster management office.

The same rainstorm caused flooding to the west in Golestan province where a landslide reportedly cut off access to about 600 people. There were no reported deaths. Landslides have become almost an annual event in Golestan province as the deforestation of the Alborz mountainsides in recent decades has made the ground unstable in heavy rains.

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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jun 6, 2014
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