The Arab News reports that a severe sandstorm originating in the Saudi Arabian province of Qassim lashed Riyadh on Tuesday March 10th, 2009, spreading an orange-color blanket of dust that led to over 70 road accidents, traffic snarls, closure of the local airport, and cancellation of scheduled luncheon parties. It even caused a scheduled football match between an Iranian team and a Saudi team to be postponed. Additional reports from the Associated Press, Qatar's Peninsula Online, and MSNBC.
Airport Director Saad Al-Tasan said that all air traffic at King Khalid International Airport was halted from 11 A.M. until 2:30 P.M., and afterwards only departures were permitted until the threat completely left the area. In addition, the King Fahd International Airport in Damman was closed later as the storm spread eastward to the Arabian Gulf (known to the rest of the world as the Persian Gulf), eventually reaching Bahrain and Kuwait. YouTube videos embedded below:
The March 10th, 2009 sandstorm:
And here's a much more vivid depiction - a May 25th, 2006 sandstorm which quite literally turns day into night:
Additional photos available on Sabdar Syed's blog. Syed states it's the first sandstorm he's experienced. More photos available on The Might Of The Pen.
Riyadh Traffic Department spokesman Maj. Ali Al-Alwan said more than 70 accidents were reported in the capital during the first three hours due to near-zero visibility. Also, various social activities were curtailed; the Banquet Sales Manager at Riyadh InterContinental Hotel Abdul Aziz told Arab News that hosts called off outdoor parties and few invitees turned up for the luncheon. Government schools were also closed early Tuesday due to the timely warning issued by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment Protection (PME) through text messages. Later, it was reported that hospitals dispatched emergency teams to dozens of residents suffering from breathing problems.
The advance weather warnings predicted low visibility due to the widespread dust during the day, especially in the central and eastern parts of the country accompanied by a decrease in temperature at night. Sandstorms are not uncommon in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East during the springtime. On April 24th 1980, sandstorms, or haboobs aloft, contributed to the ultimate failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the mission designed to rescue our hostages from Iran.
But the impact was not felt nationwide. At Saudi Arabia’s main crude export terminal in Ras Tanura weather was fine and the export flow was uninterrupted.