Climate, not conflict, explains extreme Middle East dust storm

Anthony J. Parolari, Dan Li, Elie R. Bou-Zeid, Gabriel G. Katul, Shmuel Assouline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The recent dust storm in the Middle East (Sepember 2015) was publicized in the media as a sign of an impending 'Dust Bowl.' Its severity, demonstrated by extreme aerosol optical depth in the atmosphere in the 99th percentile compared to historical data, was attributed to the ongoing regional conflict. However, surface meteorological and remote sensing data, as well as regional climate model simulations, support an alternative hypothesis: the historically unprecedented aridity played a more prominent role, as evidenced by unusual climatic and meteorological conditions prior to and during the storm. Remotely sensed normalized difference vegetation index demonstrates that vegetation cover was high in 2015 relative to the prior drought and conflict periods, suggesting that agricultural activity was not diminished during that year, thus negating the media narrative. Instead, meteorological simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model show that the storm was associated with a cyclone and 'Shamal' winds, typical for dust storm generation in this region, that were immediately followed by an unusual wind reversal at low levels that spread dust west to the Mediterranean Coast. These unusual meteorological conditions were aided by a significant reduction in the critical shear stress due to extreme dry and hot conditions, thereby enhancing dust availability for erosion during this storm. Concluding, unusual aridity, combined with unique synoptic weather patterns, enhanced dust emission and westward long-range transport across the region, thus generating the extreme storm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114013
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 8 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • climate change
  • drought
  • dust storms
  • wind erosion


Dive into the research topics of 'Climate, not conflict, explains extreme Middle East dust storm'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this