Weather Thesaurus Entry: Dust or Sandstorm

This Weather Entry has been generously written by Paranormal Author Jami Gold, who recently experienced Phoenix’s Haboob storm. Huge thanks to Jami for offering her first-hand encounter with this incredible phenomenon! Make sure to swing by Jami’s blog, which is an incredible resource for all writers looking to improve their mad skillz. Also, Jami has some spectacular footage of the actual storm, so if you are writing about this type of weather or want to see what she experienced, check out her link here. It’s amazing to watch this storm in action.

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character’s emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character’s soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).


Sight:  Before a dust storm hits, the sky is blue and the winds are calm.  A random glance to the horizon reveals a wall of brown air stretching high.  The size (up to 60 mi/100 km wide and several km high) makes it clear that the cloud is not smoke.  A dust storm, also known by the Arabic word “haboob,” is on the way.  They usually approach with very little warning.  The flat wall of brown makes it difficult to judge how far away it is unless the observer is elevated above the landscape.  By the time the cloud’s proximity is apparent…

Smell:  Dust.  Some semi-arid locations have creosote bushes as vegetation, which give off a distinctive smell if rain is following in the wake of the dust.  Breathing will be laboured with the dirty air.

Taste:  Dust

Touch:  Eyelids want to close to keep out the dust.  Eyes sting and water, and moisture from tears mixes with dirt to leave grimy streaks on the face.  The wind-driven dust sandblasts bare skin.  Hands are raised to protect the face.  Fingers lift the neck of a shirt to cover the mouth and nose.  Fabric is pressed against the face to ease breathing.  The mouth gets dry and feels like sandpaper.  Every touch…

Sound:  The sound of a dust storm depends on the location.  Outside or in a secure building, the noise is similar to a strong wind.  However, if there are windows around or the structure is unstable, like a tent, the dirt pelts the surface with a rushing, tapping sound like rain.  Leaves rustle…


Mood:  A small dust storm can reinforce a drought or warn of over-farming.  A large dust storm creates a sense of dread.  Large storms are rare, so we cannot help watching as it approaches.  We stand awestruck by the size and know it’s inescapable.  As it closes in, we realize our perspective is…

Symbolism:  Power of nature, inevitability or unavoidable, apocalypse, Godly disfavour, evil swallowing the land

OTHER:  When large thunderclouds collapse, a downdraft of wind hits the ground and can blow dust or sand into the air, creating a wall of sediment that precedes the rest of the storm.  Dust storms occur in desert-like or over-farmed conditions, where loose soil is easy for winds to pick up.  The type of deserts that produce dust storms might have vegetation, like cactus, Palo Verde trees, Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and scrub brush.  Deserts of sand dunes, like the Sahara, produce…

Don’t be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character’s emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Weather is a powerful tool, helping to foreshadow events and steer the emotional mood of any scene.

Need more detail regarding this weather element? Good news! This thesaurus has been integrated into our new online library at One Stop For Writers. There, not only has the information in each entry been enhanced and expanded, we’ve also added scenarios for adding conflict and tension. The entire thesaurus is also cross-referenced with our many other descriptive collections for easy searchability. Registration is free, so if you’re interested in seeing a sampling of the fully updated Weather and Earthly Phenomenon Thesaurus, head on over to One Stop.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Stacey antoine
Stacey antoine
1 year ago

This was very emotional to read because despite of what people went through they lost everything and maybe never got there things back😞😢😢😢


[…] direct links below each video in case the embedding doesn’t work for you.)  Then visit my guest post at The Bookshelf Muse to get the inside scoop on being in the path of a dust […]

Leslie Rose
9 years ago

I had a friend that just rode that bad boy out in Arizona. She said both she and her car had a buff color coating.

Mary Witzl
9 years ago

Brilliant. We covered weather a few weeks ago in the class I’m teaching and one of my Middle-eastern students tried to describe dust storms. This gives me an even better idea what one is like — and the fervent desire never to be in one myself!

Debbie Davis
9 years ago

very awesome info! Im glad I stumbled upon this blog, and now I must follow it too =0)

Lenny Lee*
9 years ago

hi miss angela and miss jami! i went at miss jamis blog and looked at those cool vidios. wow i couldnt ever think so much dust could make that big a cloud. its pretty scary watching it. i like this post cause it new weather stuff for me. but i gotta tell you its got me feeling all itchy and grundgy. ack!
…hugs from lenny

Susanne Drazic
9 years ago

Great post. As for the picture, all I can say is WOW!

Karen Lange
9 years ago

Appreciate this info. I especially like the idea of unusual pairings. Good food for thought, thanks!

9 years ago

Very interesting to learn about my future weather anomalies where I’m headed – great job!

Shauna (murgatr)

Tanya Reimer
9 years ago

There is magic all around us, is there not? Only a writer can make dust come to life like this. wow. I can taste it and my eyes are burning.

Tamara LeBlanc
9 years ago

See, I needed you to set me straight here…I just left a comment on your blog and wrote that the only DUST storm I’ve ever seen was the one on the movie, The Mummy…um, duh, lovely Brenden Fraiser was in the Sahara so it would be sand, like you said:)
What great info you gave here. Loved the images that formed in my head with each consecutive passage.
Thank you so much for turning me on to this sight!! I had no idea it existed.
And at the end you mentioned that Foreshadowing Conflict is soon to come, is that here or on your site? It sounds like a good one:)
Have a great evening!!

Charissa Weaks
9 years ago

Fabulousness 🙂

9 years ago

In the Caribbean we suffer the after effects of massive sandstorms (I know, not the same) that blow all the way from the Sahara.

Yes, from North Africa. Just go to Google Maps and using the rule tool measure the distance. Nature is that powerful.

Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

Wow. What a truly creepy picture. Jami, thank you so much for doing this entry, since the only dust I have experience with is the stuff on the top of my cabinets. So glad you did this one!

Matthew MacNish
9 years ago

That photo is so scary. But the post, as usual, is most excellent.

Jami Gold
9 years ago

Thank you, Angela (and Becca), for having me over to play in your sandbox (hee!) today. 🙂

I hope people find this as helpful as I’ve found so many other articles here at The Bookshelf Muse. Love you guys!

(And thanks for the blog love too. 🙂 )

9 years ago

Nicely done, Jami! It leaves me wondering if we should send other weather anomalies your way…

9 years ago

Great account, Jami! there’s a lot of material in there for a writer who wants to give it a swirl. 😉

I expect to see one of these in your next book.


Carrie Butler
9 years ago

My eyes are burning, just thinking about it! Great post! 🙂

MG Higgins
9 years ago

I can tell from the photo that the video must be incredible. I’m going to Jami’s blog momentarily. Thanks for another wonderful set of descriptions. Good point about weather cliches. I get tired of lightning storms used to up the fear factor.

Michelle Gregory
9 years ago

so glad a great post came out of a nasty storm. i think i can still taste the dust from when i went outside that day.

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

Jami, thanks so much for sharing your account of this amazing event. So many of us will not experience this first hand, or at least something of this magnitude, so how wonderful to have you share what it was like so we can add realism to our writing.

You rock, and your blog rocks! (Musers, if you don’t yet follow Jami, now is the time to start!)


9 years ago

Another scary setting. It makes for exciting imagery in our writing. Thanks!!

Stina Lindenblatt
9 years ago

We have issues with dust and wind from time to time, but nothing like this. Thank goodness. I think I prefer blizzards.

Great job, Jami. Thanks for doing this.

Pk Hrezo
9 years ago

Wow, what a vivid description! I’ve always wondered what a dust storm would be like. I love the image of the down spirited character watching the glimmer of sunlight on the snow. Beautiful!!