By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Dust storms that turn day into night are a hazard to Arizona drivers. But this year, authorities are throwing down a novel literary challenge to raise awareness of the dangers.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is inviting budding poets to take to Twitter and pen haikus - a concise Japanese literary form consisting of 17 syllables - to highlight the peril from the summer storms, known as haboobs.
Writers are posting their offerings using the hashtag #haboobhaiku, highlighting the danger of attempting to drive through the roiling dust storms which can block out the sun, and cut highway visibility to zero.
"The challenge ... is really designed to raise awareness that this is a problem and that drivers shouldn't expect to sail through a dust storm," Department spokesman Timothy Tait told Reuters.
"They need to think about it when they see that dust forming on the horizon," he added.
Contributions so far range from the literary: 'I don't yet know you - Curious but fearful, haboob - I will break for you' to the slapstick - 'world turns brown with dust / can't see red taillights ahead / until--oh crap! Oops.'
Haboobs frequently occur during the rainy season known as the monsoon southwest United States. Last July, a historic storm measuring more than 40 miles across rolled over the Phoenix valley, disrupting flights and bringing traffic to a standstill.
The department advises drivers who find themselves in the gritty thick of a dust storm to slow down and pull safely off the roadway as soon as possible.
Tait said the department came up with the idea for the novel safety campaign during a brainstorming session about how to use social media to reach out to drivers.
The concise Haiku form was the "perfect fit with Twitter, with it's 140-character limit," he said. The campaign which started Tuesday and runs through Friday has so far received over 100 entries.
"We have just been overwhelmed by haikus over the last few days," Tait said, noting that not all contributions had met the strict prescriptions of the form, which stipulates the 17 syllables be divided into phrases of 5, 7 and 5.
"My wife is an English professor, she would probably say that they are not meeting all the stringent requirements but we're having fun and enjoying the entries, and people are really embracing the challenge," he added.
Among Tait's favorites is a Star Wars inspired haiku -- 'You're not a Jedi / This is not Tatooine, Luke / Pull over now, man.'
Aside from making the roads safer, fleeting Internet fame is the prize for those taking part in the challenge. Eye-catching entries are retweeted by the ADOT.
"There's no cash prizes, but we are offering bragging rights," said Tait.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch)