October 5, 2011 – Blinding Dust Storm Hits Arizona: A blinding dust storm rolled across the Arizona desert Tuesday, causing three pileups involving dozens of vehicles on a major interstate. One man was killed and at least 15 other people were injured. The first two crashes occurred just after noon as a dust storm suddenly covered Interstate 10 near Picacho, midway between Phoenix and Tucson. Those collisions involved 16 vehicles and led to the fatality. Authorities were unable to transport injured motorists by helicopter because of the heavy dust.
The man who died was in the passenger seat of a car driven by a woman who appeared to be his wife. Their car slammed into the back of a semi and was lodged underneath it, killing the man almost instantly and leaving the woman critically injured in a semiconscious state of shock. It took 45 minutes to hook up winches to the vehicle, pull it out and then cut the woman out of the car.
A second vehicle also was lodged under a semi, and two people were extricated in a similar manner. A third pileup occurred two hours later on I-10 just north of Casa Grande and involved eight vehicles. No one was killed in that collision; however, two people had serious but non-life-threatening injuries. The University Medical Center in Tucson was treating 12 patients involved in the collisions. Three were listed as critical and the other nine were in serious condition. Authorities closed the interstate for most of the afternoon and were diverting all traffic onto other roads. Traffic was backed up at least five miles (eight kilometers). Dust storms are common across Arizona during dry and windy conditions, and walls of dust more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) high can blanket an area in a matter of seconds, sometimes reducing visibility to zero. Winds from the southwest were gusting at up to 40 mph (64 kph) throughout Arizona on Tuesday.
The Phoenix area was enveloped in a beige haze for much of the day, obscuring the view of the mountains that surround the metropolitan area. Another weather system was expected to move into Arizona on Thursday, and it could generate gusts as strong as Tuesdays.
The Master of Disaster