Researchers relying on infrared satellite images have developed a method to predict dust and sandstorms in advance. The system can also be used to track drought.

The technique had forecast a 2008 New Mexico dust storm — the area’s largest in decades — two days in advance.

Thermal and visible images of New Mexico’s White Sands Dune Field, captured by a NASA instrument, reliably indicated when soil moisture levels were low enough to result in a dust storm, reports the Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface.

Study co-author Stephen Scheidt and Michael Ramsey, geologists from the University of Pittsburgh, and Nicholas Lancaster of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute, believe that this approach could be expanded into a worldwide system to monitor areas prone to dust storms or to track drought.

The group analysed day and night-time images of White Sands ASTER captured between May 2000 and March 2008, said a University of Pittsburgh release.