Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Haboob--A dust storm by another name

Dust Storms have always occurred and still occur, although not as frequently or as destructively as occurred during the Dust Bowl. 

These storms are now called haboobs, perhaps because the term ‘dust storm’ has become so closely associated with the Dust Bowl, a time people would like to forget.

Haboob is an Arabic word. The storms of blowing sand and dirt occur in the Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula, central Australia, and the southwestern United States. Most people don't know that Phoenix has three haboobs a year, on average. Above is a photo of a haboob rolling over Phoenix.

Most often haboobs are triggered by the downburst of wind ahead of a thunderstorm. Sixty miles per hour winds lift the sand up to 10,000 feet high. Haboobs last two to three hours and may be followed by rain. If the droplets pass through the dust, they land as wind-driven mud balls. 

Look at this incredible time lapse photography by photographer Mike Olbinski of a massive haboob that struck Phoenix, Arizona on July 5, 2011.

Haboobs are also triggered by cold fronts blowing across dry land. With the widespread drought in Texas and surrounding states in the last few years, the number of haboobs is increasing.  Could it be another Dust Bowl in the making?

Why were the dust storms so much worst during the 1930s?

A couple of factors contributed to the increased frequency and severity of dust storms during the 1930s. Some were man's doing and some were nature doing what she always does--blow.

Droughts have always occurred across the Great Plains. For eons, the prairie grasses, with their roots often five feet deep, held the thin soil in place through even the driest periods. In fact, in the 1800's the region was known as the Great American Desert until the railroads convinced mapmakers and others to change the name to the Great Plains. Hard to sell land in the desert.

In the 1920's, farmers on the southern prairie used their new gas-powered tractors to plow up land the size of Ohio and plant shallow-rooted crops like corn and wheat. The ranchers of the time tried to warn the farmers that they were turning the soil 'wrong side up.'  But believing in progress, the farmers did not listen.

In the 1930s, drought hit, crops withered, and the open, disturbed ground was left exposed to the constant prairie wind. Weather fronts lifted soil from Montana to Texas. As more farmers abandoned their farms, more soil was left exposed, and more dust blew, until the storms reached New York City and beyond.

By the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration was working closing with farming communities to improve soil management practices. Then the rains began to fall again, and the tractors and plows returned.

Until the 1950s when it all began again.  More for another post.

If you have ever experienced a haboob or dust storm, please tell us about it in the Comments section below.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A nice review

I just got a wonderful review from ForeWord.  The reviewer's takeaway from the book was exactly what I hoped it would be.  It's a wonderful relief to know that I communicated what I wanted, at least to one careful reader.  Whew!  I especially like her last line.
Here it the review -- including the constructive criticism.

“We were pioneers in a pickup truck.” In 1929, twelve-year-old Myles Vincent’s family headed out to Vona, Colorado, to an abandoned family homestead. Like so many others, Myles’s father, Lionel, believed that with all the new advances in technology, they could farm the Great Plains and fulfill the American Dream.

Years later, Myles shares stories of his life on the prairie with his grandson, Andy. Andy yearns for a bit of the freedom and adventure his grandfather had. When Myles passes away, Andy is haunted by his promise to write down and share his grandfather’s stories. He sets out to learn as much as he can about the time and place his grandfather knew as home—and about the coyote who was such an important part of his life.

Sedwick doesn’t rely solely on historical facts to set the stage for Coyote Wind, nor does she simply state when the novel takes place. Instead, she creates authentic moments that showcase the American West in the 1930s. The time, place, and spirit of the era become as large a part of the novel as the characters, and are equally significant.

Sedwick reminds readers that people are profoundly affected by their time and place, and many of her characters embody that. As a main character, Myles is particularly likeable. He evolves bit-by-bit, in a way that feels realistic. Secondary characters like Myles’s parents and his twin sister are also remarkably strong, and their personal journeys are as important to the story as his own.

At the same time, Andy’s family members seem to serve more of a thematic purpose. To be fair, there is some character development among them, and more time in their company may have felt like a distraction from what lies at the heart of the novel: the story of Myles and Ro, his coyote. As a character, Andy is affable and easy to root for. Like Myles, he slowly evolves into the person he wants to be.

Part of the novel’s strength is how fluidly it reads considering its depth. This is no heavy-handed historical novel. Rather, young readers will be drawn into an engaging story that broaches serious questions about family, the American spirit, and hope. There is the potential for its audience to get so much from the book that it could easily be used in a classroom to prompt discussion."
Alicia Sondhi
January 21, 2013

The $1000 paperback

My novel, COYOTE WINDS, will be released in March. A pre-publication/review copy showed up as a used book on Amazon ... at a starting price of $295. The price jumped up several times a day, in odd increments, until it topped $1000. Is this a bizarre market bubble? A computer program gone amok? 

For those of you willing to wait until March, the book will be available for a much more reasonable price.