Dust storms on their way, and they’re getting worse

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Dust storms in Mildura
Mildura in Victoria was blanketed in dust, and centre of the city turned orange.

For many grey nomads, seeing and experiencing a dust storm is one of those unforgettable ‘rite of passage’ experiences that makes the Big Lap such a unique adventure.

The ABC reports that while these dust storms are regular occurrences in the centre of Australia, a ‘double whammy’ of drought and weather patterns this year means they’re happening a lot more more.

Even regional hubs such as Mildura in Victoria are finding themselves increasingly prone to the problem.  Last Thursday, as the state sweltered through a hot, gusty ‘code red’ day, the town was blanketed in dust, turning the centre of the city orange.

Mildura resident Sara White told the ABC that the city is used to dust storms, but things are different now.

“If you talk to any of the locals, everyone is saying the same thing,” she said. “They’ve never known the frequency of dust that we’re getting at the moment.”

The ABC reports that, for dust storms to form, the soil needs to be dry and exposed. Then strong winds that can pick up the soil and carry it across long distances. Just how powerful the wind needs to be depends on the size of the dust particles, but the minimum speed is about 30 kilometres per hour.

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Jonathan How says if the conditions are right, storms can move across the country for “hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres”.

That’s what happened with the 2009 dust storm that saw dust travel from South Australia right across the east coast of the country, blanketing Sydney in red and orange dust — and even dropping dust on parts of New Zealand.

Mr How told the ABC that  lots of vegetation is drying out, which means there are more dusty and dry conditions in central parts of Australia “and even parts of Australia where we wouldn’t normally see these kinds of conditions”.

Prolonged exposure to airborne dust can lead to chronic breathing and lung problems, and possibly heart disease. That’s on top of the danger bushfire smoke can pose to lungs and hearts.

Health authorities warn people most vulnerable to the effects of a dust storm – such as the elderly, people with heart disease and people with respiratory conditions – should be especially careful. .

Experts warn the best thing to do is stay indoors, avoid vigorous exercise and where possible, keep the dust out by closing doors and windows and using well-maintained air conditioning.

  • Have you experienced a dust storm on your travels? Where were you and how did you cope? Comment below.
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2 Responses to Dust storms on their way, and they’re getting worse

  1. i traveled through Mildura all the time over the years,and the dust was always blamed on the farmers for ploughing the paddocks and the powers to be said change your sowing to non -tilling !!!
    that was over thirty years ago.

    • You are right,Pomme. I come from the Eastern wheatbelt in Western Australia, and, back when we ploughed and ran lots of sheep, the dirt was very loose and blew away. Not so bad today with no-till. Don’t know what will happen when herbicides are banned though. Back to cultivation to get rid of the weeds eh!

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