Red dust storm engulfs Sydney, Australia

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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A huge dust storm has covered much of New South Wales and southern Queensland, Australia, including the major cities of Sydney and Brisbane. The storm is causing eerie red skies, as well as breathing problems, traffic chaos, and flight cancellations.

The dust storm has led to eerie red skies across Sydney.
Image: wilf2.

Residents have described it as like "Armageddon" or "being on Mars".

Vulnerable people including children, the elderly, and those with respiratory illnesses have been warned to stay indoors, as air pollution levels soared. According to the New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change, PM10 (particulate matter) readings are at 15,500 micrograms per cubic metre. This is the highest since records began, and compares with normal readings of around 10 micrograms per cubic metre. Even a bushfire typically raises levels to only 500 micrograms per cubic metre.

The red dust plume is visible from space and, according to Dr John Leys of the NSW Department of Climate Change and Water, stretches 600 km along the coast, dropping 75,000 tonnes of dust into the sea every hour. The Bureau of Meteorology said it was the worst storm in 70 years.

The dust was caused by strong winds which lifted valuable top soil from the desert and drought affected areas by an intense low pressure system, which has also caused other extreme weather. Hail storms have smashed windows in New South Wales, with stones as large as cricket balls reported in Crookwell with large hail also reported in Wagga Wagga. Winds up to 100 km per hour are also predicted for Sydney.

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