Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sydney dust storm 'like Mars'

From the BBC:

A storm which blew in from the Australian outback blanketed Sydney in a layer of orange dust. Here, residents describe the bizarre and frightening scene.

Tanya Ferguson said the dust was the weirdest thing she had seen in her life, turning the city into a scene from another planet.
"It was like being on Mars," she told the BBC News website.

"I haven't been there, obviously, but I imagine that's what the sky would look like."

She said she woke to a massive gust of wind blowing through her windows early in the morning.

"The whole room was completely orange. I couldn't believe my eyes," she said.

Ms Ferguson said she initially thought there was a bush fire. When she finally decided to venture outside, she said the entire city was covered in a film of orange dust.

"All the cars are just orange - and the orange was so intense," she said by phone from Sydney, where she has lived for the past six years.

Sydney dust storm worst in 70 years, says weather bureau

The dust cloud covers almost the whole of NSW, after an extreme low pressure system moved across the state from central Australia and western NSW.

The dust caused commuter chaos, the cancellation of flights from Sydney Airport, the closure of the M5 tunnel and the suspension of Sydney ferries.

People with respiratory illnesses were told to stay indoors and health authorities advised people to avoid exercise until the dust cleared.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Regional Director for New South Wales Barry Hanstrum said visibility at Sydney Airport had dropped as low as 400m.

“An event like this is extremely rare,” Mr Hanstrum said. “It's one of the worst, if not the worst.”

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds in Sydney with a gale warning issued for Sydney closed waters.

Wild winds are lashing the Hunter region and gale force winds of up to 100km/h are expected to hit Sydney.

Global warning: Sydney dust storm just the beginning

It is the natural consequence of a very long drought, and the probable onset of another El Nino effect. The storm today is unusual in that particles were carried as far as the coast.

What seems certain is that future dust storms will get more frequent and probably bigger, as the climate warms. Along with other firmly grounded projections such as an increase in bushfires and a drop in rainfall, we can expect more dust storms in the coming decades as a consequence of climate change.

Reports from farmers in outback NSW suggest a surge in the number of storms in the past few years, as topsoil is dried and exposed to winds.

It may look like Doomsday, but the causes of today's storm are relatively prosaic.

Tiny particles lifted from the desert in South Australia are wafted high into the air and carried east. The ruddy haze is caused by sunlight refracting through iron-rich dust.

If it were possible to scrape the film of dust coating outdoor surfaces across Sydney together into a heap, it would probably weigh something like 1000 tonnes - equal to the huge storm that blanketed Melbourne in 1983.

1 comment:

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