In mid-June, 2013, strong winds pushed heavy plumes of dust across the southern Caspian Sea. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image on July 17, a blustery late spring day.
A broad tan band blows southwestward in an arc from Turkmenistan, thinning as it reaches the coast of Azerbaijan. A narrower arc flows to the north, and carries enough dust to obscure the blue waters of the Caspian Sea. Several smaller dust plumes can be seen arising from other northern coastal areas of Turkmenistan.
Such storms are common in Turkmenistan, where the arid climate, sparse vegetation, and vast areas of desert combine with frequent strong winds to create perfect conditions for loose dust to rise aloft and be carried hundreds of kilometers – or sometime more. Although dust can rise from many areas, the most common source is the sandy Central Karakum (Garagum) Desert, and spring is the most common time for sandstorms. In a long-term study of the region, western Turkmenistan averaged 146 days of dust storms per year.