In For the Time Being (1999), Annie Dillard tells us how she became obsessed with the idea of sand. Where did all of this sand come from? She briefly recounts how her curiosity led her to the topic of sandstorms. One particular fact caught on my own imagination. Apparently, these impressive shows of nature create massive amounts of static electricity.
A memory. Me, a gangling kid in wool socks, laboriously shuffling around the beige shag carpet. My little brother, too. We worked up a bodily charge, then barely touched fingers, felt the spark leap, squealed with delight. Under the same charge, many times more powerful, soldiers in the desert lean over and puke.
The difference is the vast quantity of sand and the arid climate air. Dry particles lift easily off the ground, whipped by the wind. They rub together, creating a charge. Once the process of friction begins in earnest, the electrostatic field draws yet more sand up into the fray. Suspension of density. This continues and billows into gigantic, cloud-like formations, sometimes reaching two miles into the sky. Two miles. In this electric atmosphere, ungrounded vehicles being refueled will explode, the online Army Guide to the Desert informs me. People become nauseated, but they can drag a cable behind them to offset the negative charge.
They are only tiny grains leaping and dancing, technically "saltating" (L. saltare). But in a matter of hours, the whole topography of the desert can change. On March 25, 2011, a massive sandstorm in Kuwait prompted the photo above and a flurry of shaky cell-phone clips on YouTube of the event. Go and watch a few, and just try to separate heaven from Armageddon.
"Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. " Ezekiel 38:9
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 27:28