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A sand storm is a storm or strong wind that carries sand or dust with it. It occurs especially in deserts . A sandstorm has to be differentiated from a sandpipe , which remains spatially more limited.

Sandstorm over the Atlantic


Dust storm in Al Asad , Iraq
Dust storm in the North African-Arab region
Sandstorm photographed from the air in the Namib . The storm is much more violent on the ground than it appears from the airWorld icon

A sandstorm is a very dry and hot wind, which in arid regions first whirls up large quantities of sand and then carries it with it. Some storms transport up to 100 million tons of sand over sometimes very long distances. The distance that the sand travels depends on the size of the individual sand particles. The largest particles form slow dunes in sheltered places . It is estimated that in 2004 sandstorms moved a total of around 2-3 billion tons of sand.

Loose particles lying on the surface can be lifted into the air or rolled along the ground (sand crawling), thus being removed or eroded. This process is called deflation . When the finer particles the size of the silt ( grain size from 0.002 mm to 0.063 mm) are lifted into the air in dense, high clouds, the phenomenon is called a dust storm . This is not to be confused with a sandstorm in which the larger sand particles (grain size 0.063 to 2 mm) are transported. In this case, a low cloud of moving sand is formed, which is only a few centimeters to max. 2 m from the ground.

A dust storm approaches as a dark cloud that extends from the ground to a height of several kilometers. Visibility is reduced to a few meters and fine, asphyxiating dust penetrates everywhere. It is estimated that one cubic meter of air can contain up to 1 g of dust.

The process in a sandstorm is different. Sand is too heavy to be carried to great heights and long distances. It is driven across the ground in a jumping motion called a saltation .

Examples, causes and effects

African desert sand that settles in the Caribbean is held responsible for the coral death there. The same desert sand is used as fertilizer in the South American rainforest .

In nutrient-poor marine waters, the iron-rich desert sand promotes algae growth .

Sands that are blown by the dry areas of the Aral Sea are polluted with pesticides from cotton cultivation and thus cause corresponding pollution in the sedimentation areas.

An important reason for this development is the increasing use of off-road vehicles in the deserts. The off-road vehicles break up thin, hardened crusts on the desert surface, thereby destroying the erosion protection for the sand below. The introduction of cattle and sheep into the interior of Australia had the same effect . The hooves destroyed the thin layer of vegetation.

Further reasons are increasing desertification , deforestation and climate change .

In many areas where sandstorms occur regularly, they are given local names:

On April 8, 2011, a sandstorm was the cause of a pile-up on Autobahn 19 between Rostock and Güstrow. There were 8 dead and 131 injured. Large amounts of soil were blown over the highway from a neighboring field, reducing visibility to around five meters.


With the construction of the Green Wall , China is trying to contain the sandstorms that regularly hit Beijing . Overall, the Chinese want to plant trees on an area of ​​4 million square kilometers by 2050 - an area ten times larger than Germany . This makes the Green Wall the largest reforestation project in human history.


In synoptics , the following symbols and codes, defined by the World Meteorological Organization, are used to save space when specifying a weather condition with a sand or dust storm. The symbols are entered into a ground weather map as part of the data from a weather station . The assigned number key applies to both the SYNOP and METAR codes.

For all weather symbols see: Weather map # More detailed weather maps and weather map symbols

symbol Number key description
Icon Dust3.png
09 Sand or dust storm in sight at the time of observation or during the last hour at the weather station
Icon Dust6.png
30th Light or moderate sand or dust storm, weaker in the last hour
Icon Dust5.png
31 Light or moderate sand or dust storm, unchanged during the last hour
Icon Dust7.png
32 Light or moderate sand or dust storm, got stronger during the last hour
Icon Dust10.png
33 Strong sand or dust storm, weaker during the last hour
Icon Dust8.png
34 Strong or moderate sand or dust storm, unchanged during the last hour
Icon Dust9.png
35 Strong or moderate sand or dust storm, got stronger during the last hour
Symbol code ww 98.svg
98 Thunderstorm with dust or sand storm at the time of observation

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: sandstorm  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Dust storm  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Sandstorm / Duststorm  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Huge sandstorm over Phoenix at Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  2. Storm and Dust - The wind as a means of transport at Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  3. a b The aeolian treasure trove of forms in the satellite image at
  4. a b Dr. Kerstin Mölter: What exactly is silt? Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, 2010, accessed on November 29, 2016 .
  5. Sandstorm at
  6. How much does a cubic meter of air weigh? at
  7. ^ Saltation at Lexicon of Geography at
  8. Axel Bojanowski : Sand on Travel - When the "rain of blood" falls. In: . May 17, 2010, accessed May 20, 2016 .
  9. Jennifer Litters: Sahara dust darkens the sky Do we have to expect desert dust more often in the future? In: Focus Online . April 3, 2014, accessed May 20, 2016 .
  10. ddp / bdw - Ilka Lehnen-Beyel: Desert sand allows algae to grow better. In: December 23, 2003, accessed September 8, 2019 .
  11. United Nations: Desertification: It's causes and consequences. 1977, ISBN 0-080-22023-1 , p. 24.
  12. Max Ehlers: The role of knowledge in international politics. ISBN 978-3-832-40125-2 , p. 36 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  13. Thomas Volgmann: Erosion event register MV: When the sandstorm takes the view. In: April 5, 2016, accessed May 20, 2016 .
  14. Finn Mayer-Kuckuk: China: Where climate change is already visible. In: . December 4, 2015, accessed May 20, 2016 .
  15. ^ Françoise Hauser: Chinese for Beginners: Why is Beijing sinking into dust storms? In: Spiegel Online . August 21, 2008, accessed May 20, 2016 .