Ever since I moved to a high rise in downtown Phoenix I have anxiously been awaiting the arrival of the summer monsoon season. The hardest part about shooting lightning storms is getting to a good elevation to see above the surrounding areas. The 23rd floor would certainly offer a killer vantage point once the storm season began.

I had planned all day long to do some storm chasing and had even gone to Tempe Camera a few hours earlier and bought a new tripod with hopes of using it for shooting lightning pics. All I needed now was some storm activity.

6:53 PM I shot the below wide angle shot of downtown Phoenix and the US Airways Center from my balcony as a large thunderhead formed out to the west. I was really hoping for some large bolts of lightning to make a really killer Phoenix shot. No dice.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f22, 1/10th, Aperture Priority

7:38 PM Shot the below frame of the sun peeking out from behind a rain storm. I was begging for a lightning bolt in that shot as its next to impossible to get lightning and the sun in the same shot except under rare situations… had it happened this would have been one of them….

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 100iso, f22, 8 seconds, Aperture Priority

7:39 PM One minute later I would abandon the lightning with sun photo attempt to instead go wide and get the city in the shot since it was looking so pretty. Here is the resulting shot, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f22, 4 seconds, Aperture Priority

After that shot I headed back inside to watch TV and edit pics for a bit. Luckily I went back out on the balcony for a minute to see if there was anything that looked promising for lightning. When I got out and looked towards the south I saw a weird sight off in the distance, it looked like a huge fog bank rolling in but obviously on a 110 degree day the likelihood of that being fog was impossible.  Add to that the fact that this cloud was taller than South Mountain to which it was about to envelop.

I immediately realized it was a dust storm coming towards us. I had always wanted to get one of those cool shots of the dust wall rolling in but its not really something you can predict so its always a matter of dumb luck.

Well apparently I was the king of dumb luck on this day!

It took less than 2 minutes from me seeing the dust storm on my 19th floor balcony to get up to the roof on the 23rd floor to start shooting.

As I rolled up to the observation deck on the roof I noticed that it was pretty dark outside already and would only be getting darker so I wasn’t sure how good the photos were even gonna look. Luckily I shoot with Nikon bodies so shooting in dark conditions wouldn’t be a problem.

7:46 PM Here is one of my first shots showing the wall of dirt but I liked the plane up in the sky. It helps illustrate how massive this storm was about to be!

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

7:46 PM Here is a wide shot which helps illustrate the scene better.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

7:50 PM The airport tower in the center of the below frame is about to disappear…

7:51 PM Just five minutes later I did another wide shot and you can really see how far the “Haboob” (technical term for this sand storm) traveled in just that short amount of time.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

Watching the scene with my own eyes was something that is hard to explain. It looked like one of those end of the world clips in the disaster movies but this was real. It really makes you appreciate the power and fury of mother nature.

7:54 PM By this point the cloud is swallowing up Sky Harbor International Airport (which is about 4 miles from my place), below.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Aperture Priority

7:55 PM Even closer now…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/60th, Aperture Priority

7:56 PM One of my favorite photos from this event was the below shot of fellow tenants of the building who were up there watching alongside me. The man is in complete awe of the sight while his daughter could care less about the storm and was more into the clicking noise my camera was making.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Aperture Priority

7:57 PM One of the final shots I took before I had to head inside was the below frame where I included Chase Field in the foreground. Its always a good thing to get interesting photos of all the stadiums, especially ones with giant apocalyptic dust storms in the background!

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/60th, Aperture Priority

7:58 PM Here is the last shot I took before I pulled the plug on standing outside as the cloud hit the Biltmore area of town.

After that shot I hustled inside and headed back down to my place so I could try and shoot downtown from inside the cloud.

8:01 PM Here is all I could see from my balcony. That building is the US Airways Center. I couldn’t see anything past that.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/20th, Aperture Priority

After that shot I downloaded my cards and couldn’t believe how amazing some of the shots looked. I am just a sports photographer but these images reminded me of the stuff I’d see gracing the pages of National Geographic. I quickly got the images out onto the wire so I could make some sales!

9:34 PM After getting all the images edited and posted I figured I would relax for the rest of the evening. That was until I saw lightning off in the distance. Here is one of the better shots I would get this evening.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 200iso, f5, 30 seconds, Manual

And with that I wrap up my first weather blog of the season. Hoping for a few more great evenings of storm chasing but I highly doubt I will top this night for a few years…. if ever!

I have had a few people hit me up about purchasing prints for their home. To buy copies please CLICK HERE!

I must say I do have one regret… I really should have had one of the people on the roof take a “Planking” photo of me with the storm in the background. Nobody woulda been able to top that one!

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Posted in Desert, Lightning, Scenic, weather   | 31 Comments

31 responses to “Apocalyptic Dust Storm swallows Phoenix”

  1. camille payne says:

    Unbelievable photographs! My family and I are huge fans of your sport photos. These are FANTASTIC!!!

  2. Ian says:

    Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that before, Mark. Great shots!

  3. James Smith says:

    Mark, hello, I’m the Cowboys photographer and have talked to you a couple times at games. Just wanted to say hi and let you know that I think you are doing a fabulous job with this blog. Really interesting photos and explanations of why the picture worked or not. These dust storm photos were really nice, one was on the front page of the Dallas Morning News on Thursday. Take care and be safe, see you on the sidelines.

  4. Herb Schmidt says:

    Brings back memories, being on the farm north of Walker Kansas ,during the dust storms
    The two pix. below realy brought back memories
    Pix 2011/07ea7D 06400 & 2011/07ea07A 3538

  5. […] Continue reading and see more photos on Mark’s blog. […]

  6. Anonymous says:


  7. Kerry says:

    This happened because of the passage SB 1070. Expect more wrath from Dog.

  8. Diane Sutton says:

    WOW!!! We are in Apache Junction for the winter months. I hope this type of thing doesn’t happen then. Maybe our RV park was also covered in dust. I hope not.

  9. Anonymous says:



  10. these cities built in the desert are not going to exist without tapping into the great lakes for water. it is stupid to build a city in this hostile enviorment.

  11. Gregg Maura says:

    Mark, great job with the photos and explanations. Since I have been in Phoenix I have experienced three of these dust storms, this being the biggest and they are shocking natural events. Good job and thanks for sharing!

  12. Awsome. in the 30; my two older brothers brought a letter in when they got the milk cows. I was stained with Oklamho RED soil and had Ok. address and return. was readable so Dad took it to the post offic.e

  13. […] much in the home of the Jackalopes, but when it does, it is often in the form of a vicious storm. Apocalyptic dust storms, hail, and flash flooding often accompany these storms. Late summer is monsoon season — […]

  14. Hi Mark,

    A friend forwarded me your photos of the haboob. Great work!

    I have a sort of weird question. I love to meet new people and talk to them about Jesus. I’ve had several great times of doing this in downtown Phoenix — it seems that there is a constant supply of new and interesting people hanging around with time to talk. It’s been a dream of mine to actually live in downtown Phoenix, and when I read your blog and realized where you live, I was wondering if you could tell me how much it costs to rent a place there. I don’t mean to make you disclose how much you pay for your own apartment, but if you could tell the general range of prices of apartments in your building (depending on sq. feet or how high in the building or whatever) that would be great.

    I’m not sure if that dream is one I should really pursue, but I thought it would be nice to at least find out how much money it would take.

    Thanks in advance. (BTW, if you prefer to email rather than answer publicly in your comments, you can email me at danielbartsch {at] q [dot} com.

  15. Bill in Mesa says:

    Great shots! of the ‘dust storm.’ You’re a real pro.
    But, hey, we’re Arizonians and we traditionally call these things for what they are – “dust storms.” What’s with this “haboob” business? Nobody in these parts uses that word, never have. That’s an Arab word for it…and they have plenty of dust over there in Saudi. I’ve noticed the same crappy terminology creeping into the local rags.
    Sounds like some smart-aleck pseudo-intellectual know-it-all is trying to impress us with what he considers the real word for it is, and thereby enlighten all the rest of us dummies living west of the Charles River. Well, I’m an American and an Arizonian – not an A-rab! And, I’m not impressed with the hubbub about a “haboob.” Disgusted? Maybe.
    Whatever – Bill

  16. Bill in Mesa says:

    Great shots of the ‘dust storm’ Mark! You’re a real pro.
    But, hey, we’re Arizonians and we traditionally call these things for what they are – “dust storms.” What’s with this “haboob” business? Nobody in these parts uses that word, never have. That’s an Arab word for it…and they have plenty of dust over there in Saudi.
    Sounds like some smart-aleck pseudo-intellectual know-it-all is trying to impress us with what he considers the real word for it is, and thereby enlighten all the rest of us dummies living west of the Charles River. Well, I’m an American and an Arizonian – not an A-rab! And, I’m not impressed with the word “haboob.” Disgusted? Maybe.
    Whatever – Bill

  17. Gary Switzer says:

    I Live in Devon,Alberta Canada. We have had the odd Tornado in Alberta, but never a Dust Storm. Your pictures are excellent. I have forwarded them to many of my friends, so that they may enjoy them as well. GREAT JOB OF PHOTOGRAPHY.

    Gary Switzer
    13 Highwood Green

  18. Ben says:

    Wow. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life. This is crazy!

  19. Marty Turnquist says:

    Wow!! Fantastic shots.

  20. Gert Bonnett-Smith says:

    We lived in Phoenix since 1972 and have never seen such a gigantic “bowl” of dust. Back then we called as we “seen em” DUST STORMS!!!! Great photo’s, keep up the great work !

  21. pbsenn says:

    wow – wow wow wow!!!! Awesome – my sister who lives in Scottsdale sent me this website…now I know what she’s talking about when she says, “dust storm”…

  22. CR says:

    Wow! I live in Alabama and we just had a huge massive wrath of tornadic storms hit on April 27th. I think approximately 312 tornados that hit in one day. I thought to myself. Which could be worse both are bad in reference to clean up and such things. Could you tell me whith a storm like this hits – what preparations does the city do? ie. warnings, alerts, etc. Are there many deaths and accidents that result when this hits the area. Just curious! We live and breath Tornados in the SouthEast. I didn’t know if Super Dust Storms like this cause much havoic on the citizens like tornados do. May God Bless you and keep you, your family and friends save. Keep looking Up! God Speed Ahead.
    Much Love In Christ,

  23. Anonymous says:

    when did this happen
    not one date on any of the photos

  24. Tom Phillips says:

    Some great shots of the storm coming in, nice work!

  25. Chanel says:

    We experienced the first monster dust storm in Phoenix (Scottsdale) on our visit in July…UNBELIEVABLE…and very hard to clean up…even after the lightning/thunderstorm that followed! :o) We were told by long time residents that they had never seen anything like it. The news has reported 3 more since the first one in July…what date were your breathtaking photos taken?

  26. Linda Gershater says:

    Amazing pictures – I’m glad I wasn’t there – looks really frightening.

  27. BobRGeologist says:

    In the early 1960’s I was flying a Cessna Skyline with a vice President of my company and a consultant to look over the abundant coal outcrops on the Navajo reservation in NE AZ. We were over the Lukichucki Mountains on the AZ – NM border when we were caught in a tremendous dust storm like this one shown here. We were instantly into mountain wave turbulence in IFR
    conditions that turned us “every where but loose.” Luckily I had a lot of experience with instrument flight, a sturdy bird
    and two passsengers that didn’t realize our plight with no screaming to distract me. Lady luck was also involved in saving me form the most dangerous event of an adventurous career.

  28. LarryO says:

    Thanks for the professional eye. Very helpful with the camera statistics. Its ninety-five percent preparation and you did it. Your instincts are getting sharper.

  29. Diane Taylor says:

    These pics are REALLY stunning – I can almost feel the power of that storm (and the anticipation as it got closer and closer). Thanks for posting them!

  30. Caitlin Kirby says:

    how many people died?

  31. Jill says:

    Hi Mark! Fabulous photos! My friend in Flagstaff sent these to me. He said their newspaper didn’t have a picture nearly as good as these. They are fantastic and you’re an excellent photogapher! I hope National Geographic or some high level magazine buys your pictures and publishes them for many to enjoy and be in awe of Mother Nature! Thanks for sharing!

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