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How to Survive a Sandstorm

How to Survive a Sandstorm

Most people have experienced various storms throughout their lives. It isn’t uncommon for people to have memories of summer storms or even a hurricane or tornado. However, the experience of a sandstorm may be unfamiliar to many. If you’ve never been in an area prone to sandstorms, you may have no idea what to expect.

Today we are looking at what a sandstorm is and how to survive when one happens. Let’s get started!

high winds dust storm
We have experienced a few dust and sand storms in our travels

What Is a Sandstorm? 

A sandstorm is a strong wind carrying a cloud of sand. Sandstorms form when strong winds pick up sand and dirt from dry and bare landscapes and move through the air. Sandstorms most often occur in arid and semi-arid regions. They are typically a result of thunderstorms or strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones. These strong winds can transport the sand up to thousands of kilometers away. 

While many people equate sandstorms with dust storms, they are not the same. Sand particles are heavier than dust, and they do not fly as far or fall faster than light dust. Sandstorms require very high winds and can be very dangerous.

Where Do Sandstorms Occur?

Sandstorms happen in dry climates with loose and dry sand particles. You will find that most sandstorms occur across the Middle East and north Africa, but that doesn’t mean they are unique to that area. It would still be best to learn how to survive a sandstorm even if you don’t live in those locations. Sandstorms have happened in the United States. Flat, dry, and sandy states are prone to sandstorms, such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. 

How Long Do Sandstorms Last? 

Sandstorms can last anywhere from a few moments to an entire day as long as the wind prevails. Thankfully, because sand is somewhat heavy, the particles fall quickly once strong winds subside, even if there is still a slight breeze. The winds must be strong enough to keep the sand pieces in the air for the sandstorm to continue. 

Person bicycling in a sandstorm.
Stay safe in a dangerous situation by knowing how to best survive a sandstorm.

What Is the Best Way to Survive a Sandstorm? 

It is normal to be nervous when encountering any natural weather event, and even more so when you’re unfamiliar with it. Knowing the best course of action when facing a potentially dangerous situation can increase your chances of walking away unscathed. Let’s consider some things to remember if you find yourself in a sandstorm to ensure you aren’t injured or worse.

Safely Pull Over to the Side of Road

Sandstorms quickly reduce visibility. Considering how difficult it is to see in foggy or smoky conditions, a sandstorm yields similar visibility challenges, making it unsafe to continue driving. If you get caught up in a sandstorm while on the road, pull over and ensure no part of your vehicle occupies a travel lane. If other cars come along, you do not want to be in their direct path as they likely will not see you. 

Additionally, as counterintuitive as it may seem, a critical step to survive a sandstorm is to turn off all vehicle lights. Other concerned drivers trying to navigate through the low visibility may see your vehicle’s lights and assume you are moving, leading the way for them. By the time they get to you, they may not realize you have stopped, causing them to crash into you. 

Stay Indoors or in Your Vehicle

Do not go outdoors or exit your vehicle to assess the sandstorm. It may be tempting to go outside to check things out, but this can quickly put you in danger. Not only can you be pelted by small pieces of sand at upwards of 50 miles per hour, but other objects could also be flying about in the wind. You may not notice an object blowing toward you with low visibility until it is too late. 

Car stuck in the Californian desert sandstorm
Don’t get out of your vehicle if you get caught up driving in a sandstorm!

Pro Tip: Severe weather can be stressful when RVing! Use these tips on How to Weather the Weather in an RV when you next encounter a storm.

Wear a Facemask If Outdoors

If you must be outdoors, you need to protect your airway. Wearing a facemask over your mouth and nose will allow you to breathe safely without inhaling sand particles. Breathing in substantial amounts of sand can lead to several health problems that you could have easily avoided. 

If you do not have a facemask wrap a piece of your shirt or any other fabric around your face to breathe through. Wetting the fabric will further improve its filtering capabilities but may make it harder to breathe through. If you do not have eye protection you may need to wrap the fabric around your entire head to protect your eyes as well.

Find High Ground

If you know a sandstorm is coming it’s best to find high ground. It may seem counterintuitive but taking shelter behind something or down in a valley can make the swirling sand worse and potentially bury you.

However trying to move in a sandstorm can be dangerous as well, so if you get caught unprepared waiting it out in place is your best bet.

Stay Hydrated

Sandstorms occur in dry climates, which already makes you prone to dehydration. Staying hydrated helps your entire body, including your organs and skin. In order to survive a sandstorm, you need to consume more fluids than you otherwise would, similar to when outdoors on a hot day. 

Sandstorm in mountains
Air purifiers can help you breathe easier after encountering a sandstorm.

Turn On An Air Purifier

If you’ve ever been to the beach, you know that sand gets everywhere, even in places you wouldn’t expect. You’ll often find yourself vacuuming the car for weeks and finding sand in your clothes and even the floor of your home for a long time. Sandstorms work very similarly. Even in the safety of a building, sand particles can make their way in through the air ducts and open doors and windows.

Additionally, smog or other pollutants can travel far and wide due to the high winds, making for poor air quality conditions. Having an air purifier can improve the air quality in your home, reducing the effects of a sandstorm. 

Stay Updated On the Weather and Pollution Forecasts

The best defense in any situation is to know what lies ahead. Being caught off guard by a sandstorm can be dangerous, mainly if you are away from home. If you are in an area prone to sandstorms, always pay attention if there is mention of an expected storm. At the very least, sometimes roads can be closed in anticipation of an expected storm resulting in traffic issues, and more dangerously, you could find yourself on the street in the storm. 

If there’s a potential sandstorm, make plans to be safely indoors and avoid travel during the predicted storm period.

Pro Tip: Get up to the minute updates about the current weather around you with these tips on How to Set Up an RV Weather Station.

Sandstorm in a desert.
If you get caught outside in a sandstorm, make sure to cover your mouth and nose to ensure you can safely breathe.

How Do You Breathe in a Sandstorm?

First and foremost, the best way to breathe easily in a sandstorm is to remain indoors with an air filter. If you cannot stay indoors for the duration of the sandstorm, be sure to wear a breathable mask over your mouth and nose. Take care to only be outdoors for short periods and go inside as often as possible. When it is an option, splash water on your face to wash away any built-up debris to decrease your chances of ingesting sand. 

Pro Tip: Bad weather can be scary! Use these Proven Strategies to Stay Safe during a tornado.

Drone footage shows massive dust storm sweeping across central New South Wales

Can People Survive a Sandstorm?

Thankfully, most people can survive a sandstorm with the proper shelter and knowledge. Those with pre-existing risk factors such as asthma or other respiratory diseases are more susceptible to having adverse effects from a sandstorm. If you have pre-existing conditions, you should take extra precautions to avoid putting yourself in danger. 

Have you ever encountered a sandstorm? How would you describe your experience? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Mike Reilly

Tuesday 23rd of May 2023

There was recently a "sand storm" on I-55 in Illinois caused by high winds across a recently prepared farm. Seven or eight people died (Two different news reports), many injured, and 70+ cars, trucks and tractor trailers damaged.

Roy Voeller

Sunday 17th of April 2022

If you feel you need to keep the A/C on in your vehicle, use the interior air recycle feature. This stops the fan from trying to use the outside air coming through the cabin filter on your vehicle which will not stop the sand from being drawn in, to your vehicle. Retired truck driver here. Been there, done that.