White Sands, New Mexico: a source of blowing…sand

March 14th, 2008 |

GOES-12 visible images (Animated GIF)

The large (275 square mile) White Sands National Monument is an very familiar landmark on satellite imagery — the world’s largest surface deposit of gypsum sand stands out as a prominent white feature against the surrounding mountains and valleys of southern New Mexico. Strong winds across that region on 14 March 2008 (gusts as high as 66 mph were reported at Ruidoso) created a plume of blowing sand whose obvious source was White Sands. An animation of GOES-12 visible images (above) shows the development of the plume during the 17:45 – 22:45 UTC (11:45 AM – 4:45 PM local time) period.

MODIS true color image (Google Earth)

A 250-meter resolution Aqua MODIS true color image from the SSEC MODIS Today site (viewed using Google Earth, above) shows greater detail of the plume at around 19:20 UTC (1:20 PM local time). The surface visibility at Alamogordo, New Mexico (station identifier KALM, located about 20 mi or 37 km east of White Sands National Monument) was reduced to 2 miles during the late morning hours on 14 March, as winds increased and gusted to 44 mph.

NOAA ARL forward trajectories

So where did this airborne dust/sand go? NOAA ARL HYSPLIT forward trajectories (above) suggest that lower-tropospheric air parcels originating over the White Sands area at 21:00 UTC on 14 March were transported eastward and then southeastward, reaching the extreme northwestern portion of the Gulf of Mexico on 15 March. Did some of this dust then get entrained into the circulation of a undular bore that moved southward across the Gulf of Mexico on 15 March?

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