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Drought Impacts on Dust and Health in New Mexico
Dust storms create both health issues and transportation hazards. Valley Fever is endemic to the border region and gets carried with the dust. Interstates and local highways are often closed for hours in an attempt to avoid accidents and injuries. Windblown dust concentrations can be very high when strong winds occur during extended droughts - creating “exceptional episodes” of poor air quality. Air quality in rural areas of New Mexico and along the US/Mexico border is normally acceptable and well below the US EPA’s air quality standards for particulate matter. But these episodes expose millions of people to particulate levels that exceed air quality standards.
The state climatologist of New Mexico is working with the New Mexico Departments of Health and the Environment to reduce exposure during dust storms. They are investigating the dust emission generation, transport, and human exposure processes and trying to develop mitigation strategies. Determining the sources of windblown dust through ground observations and remote sensing are improving monitoring and forecasting efforts.
For more information about drought and dust impacts in New Mexico, visit http://www.climas.arizona.edu/projects/air-quality-and-climate