Muddy Rain and My Car Windshield

May 28, 2024


Photographer: Lee Anne Willson
Summary Authors: Iowa Storm Chasers, Lee Anne Willson

Pictured above is the windshield of my Honda after a muddy rain fell on March 25 (2024). Many Iowans looked at their car windows and were perplexed by the odd rainfall. This unexpected occurrence resulted from the remarkable interplay between distant weather systems and atmospheric dynamics.

The story begins far to the southwest, where a massive dust plume was kicked up across the semiarid landscapes of New Mexico and Texas. This plume, borne aloft by strong winds, traveled hundreds of miles northeastward, carried by the air currents in mid and upper levels of the upper atmosphere. As the dust-laden air mass traversed the Midwest, it encountered a storm system looming over the region. Herein lies the crucial catalyst for the extraordinary event that unfolded – the convergence of wind-borne dust with a developing storm. This convergence set the stage for a meteorological spectacle: muddy rain.
Additionally, according to Iowa State University botanist, Rob Wallace, this dust upwelling phenomenon is also responsible for the broad distribution of some weedy plant species. Their small seed travels along with the soil particles and get deposited (essentially “sown”) by the mud and water, allowing for seed dispersion over hundreds or thousands of square miles.
Ames, Iowa Coordinates: 42.0308, -93.6319
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