How Many People Were Killed by Windblown Dust Events in the United States?
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How Many People Were Killed by Windblown Dust Events in the United States?

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  • Journal Title:
    Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
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    Windblown dust events, including dust storms and smaller blowing dust events, pose severe risks to public health and transportation safety. In the United States, the statistics of fatalities caused by dust events remains elusive. We developed a new dataset by merging dust fatality data from NOAA Storm Events Database and the Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). There was a total of 232 deaths from windblown dust events from 2007 to 2017. This number is much larger than that reported by the NOAA Natural Hazard Statistics, which assigns some dust fatalities to high winds and thunderstorms (∼45%) and does not include many events in FARS. Dust fatalities are most frequent over the Southwest, consistent with the spatial distribution of dust storm occurrences. Other high-risk regions include the Colorado Plateau, Columbia Plateau in Washington and Oregon, the High Plains where the disastrous “Dust Bowl” occurred, and the Corn Belt where blowing dust from croplands presents a driving hazard. All six most deadly dust wrecks (three deaths or more) involved semi trucks and five of them were caused by dust storms along Interstate 10. There exist two “hotspots” for dust fatalities: 1) the “Deadliest 10 Miles” between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, and 2) Lordsburg Playa in New Mexico, where active dust mitigation projects have been managed by state transportation agencies. In most years, dust events caused comparable life losses to that from other weather hazards such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, lightning, and wildfires. This work presents new evidence that dust is an underappreciated weather hazard.
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    Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 104(5), E1067-E1084
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