Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hubbubs Over Haboobs

In an article titled "Arabic weather term ‘haboob’ is apparently troubling for some Texans",    Washington Post Weather Editor Jason Samenow claims Texans and Arizonans are "prejudiced" if they object to using exotic neologisms from half a world away to describe local phenomena. He wrote:

"Of course, the actions of a few shouldn’t color all Texans and Arizonans as prejudiced."

But he didn't cite a single comment that talked badly about people or races or ethnicities - all specified the difference in REGIONAL weather terminology as opposed to global. Every comment clearly objected to sudden use of rare and impenetrable words for the simple reason that they are unintelligible to the audience.

But does Mr Samenow comprehend the actual words his audience uses, listening to them at face value? No. Instead, he and other weather writers project onto them attitudes, intentions and histories from their own minds. They turn defensive, never imagining that this is not a debate about nations or culture, but instead about the rules of effective communication.

Clueless and projecting, these weather writers seem to think people who have listened to weathermen describe dust storms and sand storms for fifty years using words like "dust storm" and "sand storm", should not object to media suddenly deciding to boycott effective, descriptive terms in favor of  too-cute-by-half virtue signals that are so obscure the only English use prior to 2001 that even meteorologists can find is:

"a 1925 paper in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society was titled “Haboobs.” "

In 2014, faced with similar objections, National Weather Service's Dan Satterfield quoted  the American Meteorological Society atmospheric science dictionary. Note that in March of 2014, the word was still applied ONLY to the country of Sudan, and only portions at that. Officially, in 2014, "haboob" had no relationship to any dust storm or sandstorm outside that tiny region - and the definition itself was originally described in 1925:

(Many variant spellings, including habbub, habub, haboub, hubbob, hubbub.) A strong wind and sandstorm or duststorm in northern and central Sudan, especially around Khartoum, where the average number is about 24 a year.
The name comes from the Arabic word habb, meaning “wind.” Haboobs are most frequent from May through September, especially in June, but they have occurred in every month except November. Their average duration is three hours; they are most severe in April and May when the soil is driest. They may approach from any direction, but most commonly from the north in winter and from the south, southeast, or east in summer. The average maximum wind velocity is over 13 m s-1 (30 mph) and a speed of 28 m s-1 (62 mph) has been recorded. The sand and dust form a dense whirling wall that may be 1000 m (3000 ft) high; it is often preceded by isolated dust whirls. During these storms, enormous quantities of sand are deposited. Haboobs usually occur after a few days of rising temperature and falling pressure.
Sutton, L. J. 1925. Haboobs. Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc.. 51. 25–30.
Weather writers who use the word are ignoring its etymology in their drive to muddle their vocabularies.

Claims that this silly-sounding (to English-speaking ears) word from 1925 has 'been in common use' for years are false and misleading. The entry in the American Meteorology Society's Glossary was updated a few months later , in Dec 2014, to enable it to support the claims. Yet, aside from the original 1925 description, they found only a single other scholarly use to cite, from 1972:

"The name comes from the Arabic word habb, meaning “wind.” The term “haboob” originated as a description for wind and sandstorms/duststorms in central and northern Sudan, especially around the Khartoum area, where the average number is about 24 per year, with the most frequent occurrences from May through September. However, the term is now commonly used to describe any wind-driven sandstorm or dust storm in arid or semiarid regions around the world, and haboobs have been observed in the Middle East/Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara Desert, central Australia, and the arid regions of southwest North America, from the Sonoran Desert of northwest Mexico and Arizona to the western portions of the Great Plains of the United States..
Idso, S. B., R. S. Ingram, and J. M. Pritchard, 1972: An American haboob. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 53, 930–935,doi:10.1175/1520-0477(1972)053<0930:aah>2.0.CO;2. [1]
Sutton, L. J. 1925. Haboobs. Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc.. 51. 25–30. 
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The entry for synonyms of "Sandstorm" lists:
black blizzard, devil, dust devil, duster, harmattan, khamsin, peesash, samiel, sand column, sandspout, shaitan, simoom, sirocco

"Haboob" is also not even on the list of fifty synonyms for dust storm in

Google Ngram's search of books back to the year 1800 shows the long and respectable history of the accepted terms: sand storm, and even more common, dust storm.  Despite its invention in the Roaring Twenties, it is obvious that "haboob" has been rarely, if ever used in print since it was coined, through the Millenium Year.

Google Ngram:

"Now commonly used to describe any wind-driven sandstorm or dust storm"  Sure. So common the literature only contains two references. I don't gamble. but I would bet no meteorologist who graduated before 2001 ever heard or used the word "haboob" in school.

Obviously, the silly word never quite "caught on". It is silly sounding, it's proponents don't offer any meaningful history to support its adoption, and it is needlessly obfuscative. Replacing clearly descriptive terms with a nonsense word benefits no one, although it does give us a chance to see which meteorologists disdain their audiences.

American English is a language that easily and happily adopts words from every other language and makes them our own.  And guess what? We Texans knew that and were adopting foreign  words long before Samenow, Satterfield, et al had the hubris to project their own motives into the push-back they got for making their forecasts unintelligible.

Texans are not objecting to the natural adoption or coinage of new words from any source.

Texans are not objecting to the adoption of "Arabic" words or words from any language that are useful for conditions where extant  English terms are lacking in specificity, eg "sirocco".

What Texans are objecting to is silly weather writers trying to prove their leftist globalist sensibilities while they look down their long long noses at their audience, trying to shame their legitimate critics while gleefully crowing "They didn't even know what "haboob" means! Can you imagine?".

For some progressive weather writers who put their politics before their science, their use of non-standard words may be about race or religion or culture or immigration or national borders or any other political issue.

But don't project that onto us, because politics has nothing to do with it for the people you disparage without cause.

 For US, it is about safety, and the proper use of settled language to communicate safety information.

When it comes to weather reports, in Texas our lives and property are at stake. We need clear, comprehensible data unhampered by foolish philosophical urges.  Just because you are bored with saying the same old things the same old ways, does not mean it will help us to change standardized terms, words, and phrases.

We don't have time to try to figure out what you mean if you wake up one morning and decide to announce that  "Brown County is under a Gorwynt warning until 15:00 GMT. A Gorwynt has been sighted and all residents are advised to sich unterstellen immediately."

When it comes to weather, speak clearly and communicate effectively. If you want to provide forecasts in foreign languages, go for it, but make sure you are using the established language of your "hearers" or else they won't understand you.

Our lives and safety depend on it.

6/2/16 Update: Thanks to Bill Quick at Daily Pundit for the link!

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