Sand and Dust Storms

Sand and dust storms

Sand and dust storms (SDS) occur when strong winds lift sand and dust from dry soils into the atmosphere, transporting particles over vast distances. They impact climate, weather, and ecosystems and harm human health, agriculture, transportation, and solar energy. At the same time, they also supply nutrients to ocean ecosystems.

330 million people
are affected by sand and dust storms around the world
of global dust emissions originate from human-related activities.
More than 80%
of the global dust budget is produced by North African and the Middle East deserts.
~2,000 million tons
Yearly emission of sand and dust, amounting to 307 Great Pyramids of Giza.


The most significant dust sources globally are concentrated in arid and semi-arid regions, particularly major deserts such as the Sahara in Africa, the Gobi in Asia, and the Arabian Desert in the Middle East.

Sand and dust storm activity varies widely depending on geographical location, climate conditions, and local environmental factors.  They originate from natural sources like deserts, dry lake beds, and coastal regions with loose sediment. Human activities exacerbate the problem through construction, agriculture, and poor land management practices that strip vegetation and expose soil to wind erosion. Climate change amplifies the occurrence of sand and dust storms by altering weather patterns and reducing vegetation cover.

Dust is a major component of atmospheric aerosols, which are essential climate variables characterizing the Earth's climate. Dust particles also significantly impact weather due to feedback processes related to atmospheric dynamics, cloud formation, and precipitation.


Sand and dust storms are a weather-environmental-related phenomenon that affects more than 150 countries worldwide.  

In countries within or near desert dust sources, sand and dust storms severely compromise livestock, agriculture, and human health. Intense storms can also force the closing of roads and airports due to poor visibility, deteriorate infrastructure, and strongly affect commercial energy production.

Dust also reduces solar insolation in distant regions, affecting solar energy production. Saharan dust storms can be transported for thousands of kilometers across the ocean, impacting daily life in the Caribbean. An intrusion of Saharan dust into the European Alps in March 2022 was one of the factors behind record glacier loss that year. But there are also positive effects. Nutrients contained in the transported dust favour the fertilisation of marine and continental ecosystems, positively affecting agriculture and fisheries.

Recognizing that SDS and their negative impacts at different scales are issues of international concern, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 12 July as the International Day of Combating Sand and Dust Storms (A/RES/77/294).

WMO's response

WMO’s Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System was set up in 2007. It seeks to strengthen operational forecasting and warning services for various regions of the world in a globally coordinated manner to reduce the impacts on the environment, health and economies. This collaborative international partnership of research, operational and user communities facilitates the transfer of technology from research to serve society. 

There are four regional centres which provide forecasts for Northern Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Gulf Cooperation Council.  

To provide regular scientific information, WMO produces an annual Airborne Dust Bulletin .

WMO’s Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System also contributes to the science that underpins the United Nations Coalition for Combating Sand and Dust Storms, leading the activities connected with forecasting and early warnings. It is an essential part of the international Early Warnings for All initiative to ensure that everyone in the world is covered by early warnings of hazardous events.

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