Back in the late 70s when I was moving my family from Austin, Texas to Spokane, Washington we experienced a phenomenon that we had previously only read about. We had the car radio on a local station as we headed northward toward the Texas Panhandle. A bulletin was issued for a dust storm that was occurring not too far ahead of where we were. I tuned the radio to another station that was north of the storm. With the information I gleaned from the bulletins my wife and I decided our best bet was to keep driving rather than stopping to let the storm pass. If we kept moving we would be in the storm for a shorter period of time than if we stopped and waited for it to pass. The map below shows the highway between Lubbock and Amarillo where we encountered the dust storm.
We saw the huge dust cloud just ahead so we rolled up the car windows and drove on. The car was quite warm, since it didn’t have air conditioning and we were very surprised at how much dust found its way inside the car. It was a very cloying smell and taste. Even putting a handkerchief over the mouth and nose couldn’t keep us from coughing and even feeling the grit on our tongues. The storm seemed to be getting worse so I thought it would be better if we could find a road that would take us to the west and maybe we could get around it faster. My wife found a road that we could turn onto on the map, but the visibility was so bad that I missed it. I never even saw a road sign.
We finally came out of the other end of the dust storm and could open the windows and breathe fresh air again. The car was running low on gas and there was a gas station just ahead. We stopped to buy the gas and the station was “full service” because the attendant promptly asked me to pop the hood open and he’d check the oil, etc. He removed our air filter and showed it to me. The grit was actually falling out of it. As he replaced it with a new filter I explained that we somehow missed that cutoff to the west. He explained that we were lucky we missed it because the dust storms usually push enough dust and soil across that road to make a drift a couple feet deep. We would have been trapped literally in the middle of nowhere for who knows how long.
There is another dust storm far far away that has been causing problems for people here on earth. The storm is on Mars. NASA’s Opportunity rover has been working on Mars for an amazing 14, nearly 15, years and it was only supposed to fulfill a 90-day mission. The dust storm on Mars is unlike any here n earth. The storm not only covers the Perservance Valley, the home-away-from-home of Opportunity, but also covers an estimated 14 million square miles of the Martian surface.
The dust has covered Opportunity’s solar panels which provide the energy to charge it’s batteries. According to an article on pays.org Opportunity “… has fallen asleep and is waiting out the storm”, said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.” “We are concerned but we are hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will be able to communicate with us.” The rover did have enough stored power to send a message back to earth letting the scientists know it was going to return to the sleep mode. In sleep mode it awakens at regular intervals to check battery levels. If they are too low sleep mode is resumed.
Just take a look at the composite picture below to see just how massive the dust storm is and how quickly it spread across the Martian surface.
We’ll have to wait for the dust storm to subside and move on to find out if we’ll still have an “Opportunity” to get more data from the sleeping rover.
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