WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.
However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).
Sight: Before a dust storm hits, the sky is blue and the winds are calm. A random glance to the horizon reveals a wall of brown air stretching high. The size (up to 60 mi/100 km wide and several km high) makes it clear that the cloud is not smoke. A dust storm, also known by the Arabic word “haboob,” is on the way. They usually approach with very little warning. The flat wall of brown makes it difficult to judge how far away it is unless the observer is elevated above the landscape. By the time the cloud’s proximity is apparent, it’s within a half-mile and observers might have less than a minute to seek shelter. A few seconds before the wall of dust hits, the winds strengthen, tossing tree branches from side-to-side. Day turns to an orange-ish dusk or night and landmarks just a couple hundred feet away disappear behind the dirty air. The winds keep dirt suspended in the air, coating everything with a fine layer of dust. Driving and being outside is dangerous. The strongest storms have winds near 70 miles per hour (110+kph). The movement of so many particles in the air renders radar installations (airports, military, etc.) blind while engulfed in the dust cloud. The worst of the dust will usually pass within 30 minutes, but if not followed by a rainstorm, the air can remain choked with dust for hours and stay hazy for days. Branches and whole trees can be knocked down by the winds.
Smell: Dust. Some semi-arid locations have creosote bushes as vegetation, which give off a distinctive smell if rain is following in the wake of the dust. Breathing will be laboured with the dirty air.
Touch: Eyelids want to close to keep out the dust. Eyes sting and water, and moisture from tears mixes with dirt to leave grimy streaks on the face. The wind-driven dust sandblasts bare skin. Hands are raised to protect the face. Fingers lift the neck of a shirt to cover the mouth and nose. Fabric is pressed against the face to ease breathing. The mouth gets dry and feels like sandpaper. Every touch, especially skin against skin, concentrates the dirt in an area with sweat and skin oils to produce small grit particles that roll between the surfaces and scour the skin. A coating of dry grit covers hair, clothes, and skin, and fills the nose and ears. A person will feel so dirty that they think they’ll never get clean again.
Sound: The sound of a dust storm depends on the location. Outside or in a secure building, the noise is similar to a strong wind. However, if there are windows around or the structure is unstable, like a tent, the dirt pelts the surface with a rushing, tapping sound like rain. Leaves rustle in the wind, tree branches creak and might break. Thunder might sound from the storm following behind the dust cloud.
Mood: A small dust storm can reinforce a drought or warn of over-farming. A large dust storm creates a sense of dread. Large storms are rare, so we cannot help watching as it approaches. We stand awestruck by the size and know it’s inescapable. As it closes in, we realize our perspective is all wrong and that the cloud is much nearer than we thought. Panic takes hold as we scramble to find shelter. The storm traps people in their location until it passes. The strength of a large storm is a reminder of human fragility.
Symbolism: Power of nature, inevitability or unavoidable, apocalypse, Godly disfavour, evil swallowing the land
Possible Clichés: Nothing that stands out.
OTHER: When large thunderclouds collapse, a downdraft of wind hits the ground and can blow dust or sand into the air, creating a wall of sediment that precedes the rest of the storm. Dust storms occur in desert-like or over-farmed conditions, where loose soil is easy for winds to pick up. The type of deserts that produce dust storms might have vegetation, like cactus, Palo Verde trees, Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and scrub brush. Deserts of sand dunes, like the Sahara, produce sand storms instead of dust storms and the weather conditions surrounding these storms can be different because of the heavier sand particles. In the southwestern part of the United States, the seasonal monsoon storms during the summer months create large thunderhead clouds during the heat of the day, releasing that energy in the late afternoon and evening. When using this type of storm, do your research to make sure the weather, climate, seasonal, and time-of-day facts fit your fictional setting.
Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.