Simulating the meteorology and PM10concentrations in Arizona dust storms using the Weather Research and Forecasting model with Chemistry (Wrf-Chem)

Peter Hyde, Alex Mahalov, Jialun Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Nine dust storms in south-central Arizona were simulated with the Weather Research and Forecasting with Chemistry model (WRF-Chem) at 2 km resolution. The windblown dust emission algorithm was the Air Force Weather Agency model. In comparison with ground-based PM10observations, the model unevenly reproduces the dust-storm events. The model adequately estimates the location and timing of the events, but it is unable to precisely replicate the magnitude and timing of the elevated hourly concentrations of particles 10 µm and smaller ([PM10]).Furthermore, the model underestimated [PM10] in highly agricultural Pinal County because it underestimated surface wind speeds and because the model’s erodible fractions of the land surface data were too coarse to effectively resolve the active and abandoned agricultural lands. In contrast, the model overestimated [PM10] in western Arizona along the Colorado River because it generated daytime sea breezes (from the nearby Gulf of California) for which the surface-layer speeds were too strong. In Phoenix, AZ, the model’s performance depended on the event, with both under- and overestimations partly due to incorrect representation of urban features. Sensitivity tests indicate that [PM10] highly relies on meteorological forcing. Increasing the fraction of erodible surfaces in the Pinal County agricultural areas improved the simulation of [PM10] in that region. Both 24-hr and 1-hr measured [PM10] were, for the most part, and especially in Pinal County, extremely elevated, with the former exceeding the health standard by as much as 10-fold and the latter exceeding health-based guidelines by as much as 70-fold. Monsoonal thunderstorms not only produce elevated [PM10], but also cause urban flash floods and disrupt water resource deliveries. Given the severity and frequency of these dust storms, and conceding that the modeling system applied in this work did not produce the desired agreement between simulations and observations, additional research in both the windblown dust emissions model and the weather research/physicochemical model is called for. Implications: While many dust storms can be considered to be natural, in semi-arid climates such storms often have an anthropogenic component in their sources of dust. Applying the natural, exceptional events policy to these storms with strong signatures of anthropogenic sources would appear not only to be misguided but also to stifle genuine regulatory efforts at remediation. Those dust storms that have resulted, in part, from passage over abandoned farm land should no longer be considered “natural”; policymakers and lawmakers need to compel the owners of such land to reduce its potential for windblown dust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-195
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Air and Waste Management Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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