In late December, 2013 brisk winds blew across Mexico’s dry central plateau, raising broad lines of dust high into the air. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured a striking true-color image of the event on the morning of December 21.
Plumes of orange-red dust rise from equally red patches of soil and are carried hundreds of kilometers to the northeast where, at the far edge of the image, the ocher dust appears to begin to mix with clouds. Winds at Durango, Mexico were reported to be as high as 40 mph (64 km/h) and gusts in the region as high as 50 mph (80.5 km/h) on that day. The soil where the plumes originate is rich in iron, which causes the ocher coloration.
By December 22, some residents of Houston, Texas noticed a fine orange dust decorating their automobiles – dust that most likely originated in this storm a day earlier.
Mexico’s central plateau rises an average of about 6,000 feet (1,829 m) above sea level, with some areas higher. Rising dust has little trouble being caught in mid- to upper-level airflows, such as the one moving across northern Mexico and Texas on December 21 – 22. This flow helped produce some light rain in Texas, which, most likely, brought the dust back down to Earth with the precipitation.