Dust Storm Hits Central Eastern Australia

dust car cutAS I look outside the sky is orange with dust.  It irritates the nose and eyes, tickles the throats and sits heavily on the chest.  And I am inside.

According to all the news reports visibility is 10 metres at Broken Hill to the far west and 100 metres in Sydney just 150 kilometres east of where I am.   Australian Bureau of Meteorology spokeswoman Jane Golding says gale force winds have whipped up the dust from Australia’s drought-stricken inland and spread it east.

According to ‘Out of the West: A historical perspective of the Western Division of New South Wales’ by Dick Condon (Published by Rangeland Management Action Plan, 2002) there were severe dust storms in 1902-03, 1937-39, 1983, 1993, but the worst were during the period from 1943-1945.  Some of these storms were often continuous day-in-day-out for several days. 

Most of the dust storms that swept New South Wales during the 1943-45 period had their origins in South Australia with dust pick-up from treeless country.  On reaching timber country to the east the wind velocity at ground level is reduced and dust trapped by the foliage of trees.  As the storms passed eastward more and more dust was deposited.  

Meteorological records report there were 34 dust storms at Wagga Wagga in central western New South Wales during the 1944-45 period.  According to Dick Condon many of those resulted in blackouts or near blackouts when it would have been necessary to turn the lights on in order to see inside the average sized house.

Comparing the drought period 1982-83 with 1944-45 Mr Condon concludes that the storms were more severe during the earlier period because of the relative absence of dust raising winds and the much improved conditions of the landscape in the semi-arid and arid grazing country in western New South Wales during the latter part of the 20th century.


Photograph of dust on my mother’s car parked in the driveway at Katoomba, Blue Mountains, September 23, 2009.

The following notes and quotes from  ‘Out of the West – An Historical Perspective of  The Western Division of New South Wales’, by Dick Condon.  Published by the Rangeland Management Action Plan, 2002.

“One  thing is certain, however, the millions of tonnes of soil particles, and attached plant nutrients, which were lifted into the atmosphere in the 1965-67, 1980-83 and 1991-94 droughts were minor in comparison with the amounts which would have left the Western Division, and other parts of arid and semi-arid Australia, in the period 1885 to 1945.”  Condon pg. 221

“The present climate of New South Wales is very mild compared to the arid periods of the distant past.  Wasson (1989) has presented evidence of the extremely long periods of intense aridity in the last 36,000 years – responsible for re-working the dune systems in Australia.  These extreme arid periods occurred in cycles, often lasting for thousands of years, developed from earlier arid periods, as in tens of thousands of years, of extreme aridity.  In more recent geological times, Mother Nature has arranged to clothe the dune systems with a protective and stabilising cover of ground vegetation as well as tree cover.” Condon pg. 221

 “ Many fences were submerged by the drifting soil and stretches of railway line were buried.  On 21st November [1902] so much soil was blown from the interior that Melbourne was drenched with dust and, in the afternoon, the sun was almost hidden by the dust in the air.”  Blainey 1980  (pg. 206 Condon)

“In an extreme case near Menindee [in 1937] a new four-roomed house was never occupied.  It became sanded up, and when the owner returned after a compulsory absence of six months, he had to enter it through the roof.  It was however, found impracticable to remove the sand the house was abandoned.”  Ratcliffe 1937 (pg. 212 Condon)

[In 1939] Albert Morris, an amateur nurseryman at one of the [Broken Hill] mines, was able to convince the manager of the Zinc Corporation that the best way of protecting the proposed new offices from being buried in drift sand was to establish a plantation of trees on their western side. (pg. 215, Condon)


57 Responses to Dust Storm Hits Central Eastern Australia

  1. DMS September 23, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Thanks Jennifer – excellent context.

    It won’t work though; there is already commentary connecting this with “climate change”. (Possibly true (i.e. it’s possible the climate has changed and that the storms are a result) – but possibly more to do with land use and current “normal” drought conditions, but bugger all to do with CO2.)

    e.g. this reuters article when reporting the storm makes a context-free statement unrelated to the dust storm

    Reuters – “The country is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, but also the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter per capita as it relies on coal-fired power stations for the bulk of its electricity.”

    Although in a rare outbreak of balance our ABC adds some historical perspective at the end of this apocalypticly-worded article.

    From the ABC article: “Caller Mary spoke about a dust storm she saw in 1939: “I was 13 years of age and I lived in Leichhardt,” she said. “I remember I walked to my aunt’s place and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The colour was a sort of yellowy-brown.” “

  2. Helen Mahar September 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    We expect strong winds across Southern Australia around both the spring and autumn eqinoxes – second half of September and of March. We call them the equinox storms. This was one. Apparently Broken Hill’s last bad strom was one year ago, to the day. Another one. The strong winds that whipped up a massive dust storm and fanned the Ash Wednesday bushfires (March 1983) was yet another.

    And yes, when they pass across South Australia, they can pick up massive amounts of dust and soil nutrients to dump eastwards. Don’t mind losing the dust, but that fertiliser is money. In the last few decades farmers have concentrated on retaining vegetation cover on fragile, easy to blow soils. Their success can be measured by the decrease in frequency of these bad dust storms. It now takes drought conditions, rather than arid land overgrazing or farm fallowing practices to get the very bad dust storms. That said, the are still Hell to live through.

  3. spangled drongo September 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    When I was a Diamantina drover in the ’50s, at night in a dust storm you had to get up every half hour and re-lay your swag to avoid being buried alive.[slight exaggeration]

    But sand and dust storms were a much more common occurrence decades ago than they are today.
    So much so that our improved agricultural practices are responsible for AGW.


  4. DMS September 23, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    Helen makes an excellent point – as various issues are managed over time they cease to be seen as normal, and perhaps even fall from the herd memory. Thus every event becomes unprecedented and evidence of “change”, when of course it’s neither.

  5. Bunyip September 23, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    There is some fascinating research coming out of Monash University that strongly suggests dust storms are responsible for the fertility, such as it is, of the coastal soils. It shouldn’t be a surprise. The importance of loess deposits are well known and long-recognised. But to Silly Moaning Herald environment reporter Ben Cubby, it has everything to do with climate change. He has already weighed in on that point, and will doubtless continue beating the drum, even though it requires a contradictory narrative.

    Consider his first par: “The eerie red glare that covered Sydney’s sky this morning is a sign of things to come.”

    Now his fourth par: “However, this does not necessarily mean that today’s dust storm is a direct product of climate change.”

    So its a harbinger of disaster, but not neccessarily so.

    Have it both ways, Ben, as long as it adds up to climate change being responsible.

    There are all sorts of reasons why fairfax is in dire straits. Hiring gullible kids to take stenography from people like David Karoly (“climate change caused victoria’s bushfires”) is one of the main ones

  6. spangled drongo September 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    We currently have a beautiful apricot sky here and it has caught me in the middle of varnish restoration work.
    It is always difficult to restore weather-beaten varnish that has had too much UV exposure but this apricot coloured dust has added an even film of new-timber colour to my wet varnish.

    Very timely. I just hope it’s more natural oxide than fertiliser.

    Now, if I could just get enough flypaper down in the orchard……

  7. Ron Pike September 23, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi All,
    And I agree with most of what has been posted above.
    I am reluctant to admit that I vividly remember the dust storms of the late 30s and early 40s.
    As for the hysterics of the likes of Ben Cubby and like minds at the ABC, what is occuring today is only a mild dust haze.
    I vividly remember being repeatedly let out of school early (Calorafield in the western Riverina)as another dust storm began to roll in from the west.
    We would grab our bikes and peddle like Mockridge in an attempt to make it home before the storm turned day into night.
    We would regularly awake with a white body outline and everything else covered with red dust.
    With you Spangles.
    Those storms did deposit considerable topsoil on the mountains and coastal areas and there were numerous reports of the white snow of the southern Alps in N.Z. being covered with Aussie red soil.
    They were caused by bad ( but at the time, unavoidable) farming practices.
    But most importantly a never ending rabbit plague, that simply responded to improved conditions with increased breeding.
    In an attempt to preclude rabbits from prime farming land, paddocks were fenced with netting and it was this netting which allowed the accumulation of blown grass, which in turn caught the sand and very quickly the rabbits could hop back into cleared paddocks as the fence line disappeared under wind blown sand.
    Just one issue in relation to where this sand and top soil originated. Certainly some from S.A. particularly when N Easters were blowing towards Melbourne. However in relation to the great dust storms that passed over Sydney and the NSW coast, most of this came from western NSW.
    The trees that were introduced to save Whyalla and Broken Hill, were the Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla). They were both drought and salt tolerant, but grew very quickly if given sufficient water.
    They were propagated in vast numbers at Griffith on the MIA and planted across large areas of low rainfall country in three States. Can still be seen in places today, though now considered a noxious plant. (Silly in my view.)
    As I have argued here many times before, the land management practices of today are better than at any time in the last 300 years. In spite of Luke’s dire predictions.
    This is why we are unlikely to see a repeat of the dust storms which I and many others remember.

  8. janama September 23, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    The BOM has various articles on dust storms:



    The year 1902 was one of appalling drought in eastern Australia. Whenever strong winds blew, dessicated soil was whipped into great dust clouds. On the worst day, Wednesday 12 November, northwesterly gales caused exceptional dust-storms to sweep across three states. The winds caused considerable damage in their own right, tearing roofs from buildings and uprooting trees across Victoria, South Australia and southwestern New South Wales.

    The storm was first reported in South Australia, where it affected many parts of the state. Thick clouds of dust shrouded Adelaide from early morning, reducing visibility to 20 metres. It would have been quite an experience for Madame Melba, who had sung in the City of Churches the previous evening!

    In Victoria and the Riverina, gales and dust began in the morning and worsened as the day went on. Reddish-brown dust filled the air as the temperature climbed to 38°C. A squall line seems to have crossed northern Victoria and the Riverina in the afternoon, because town after town reported a sudden terrifying increase in wind, and dust so thick that it put the town in total darkness for between five and 20 minutes. The winds blew down telegraph poles over western Victoria, and it took days to repair the line from Melbourne to Adelaide. The mail coach from Geelong to Portarlington, caught in the storm, was halted for 20 minutes as the elements terrified horses and passengers alike. After the storm, sand 30cm deep had to be shovelled from the line between Kerang and Swan Hill before trains could pass.

    In some towns, “balls of fire” were reported. At Boort in central Victoria they reportedly fell into paddocks and streets, with showers of sparks as they struck the ground. In Chiltern and Deniliquin the balls were blamed for setting fire to buildings. A possible explanation is that fast-moving blowing dust particles generated static electricity, which ignited organic matter carried along with the dust. The experience must have been truly frightening: the sky a lurid red, a hot gale blowing, dust thick enough for almost total darkness, and balls of fire to add to the terror.

    In NSW the mail coach from Hay to Deniliquin was delayed nine hours. In Hay itself, the Land Court had to adjourn when the president could not see the papers in front of him. The dust reached Sydney early the next day: northwest winds were lighter, and the dust took the form of a haze that thickened during the day (ships reported that it extended from south of Sydney to Newcastle). Dust clouds reached as far north as Inverell, before heading out to sea.


    “Darkness at noon” – the summer of 1944/45


    The drought era of the 1930s and 1940s in Australia was noteworthy for its many dust-storms. Especially bad in this regard was the late spring and summer of 1944/45 over southeastern Australia, after years of drought in the inland had dried out vegetation and loosened the soil.

    A foretaste came on Monday 16 October 1944, with widespread dust-storms across western New South Wales. One raged for three hours at Cobar, accompanied by winds strong enough to wreck the local theatre. Brown-yellow dust-clouds soon reached Sydney, requiring lights to be turned on in the afternoon. Four weeks later, on 13 November, a similar event again shrouded NSW, from Broken Hill to Sydney. On the 20th, thick dust blanketed Mildura for eight hours, and the railway lines to Balranald and Moulamein were blocked by sand.

    On the morning of 16 December, dust in Adelaide was thick enough to require lights to be turned on; strong northerly winds took this dust over the southernmost areas of South Australia. Again, sand on the tracks disrupted train travel, this time blocking the line from Peterborough to Mannahill. Two more dust-storms followed at five-day intervals: the first coated extensive areas south and east of Oodnadatta, including Canberra; the second was concentrated over the Victorian Mallee. The year ended with eastern South Australia again blanketed by a dense pall of dust on 29 December; in Adelaide the lights were on from mid-morning.

    Conditions did not improve in the New Year. On 24-25 January 1945, dust-storms mantled northern and western Victoria, and western NSW. Perhaps the worst day was Tuesday 30 January: in Victoria only the Western district and Gippsland escaped the dust. In Mildura, the dust was accompanied by a southwesterly gale, and power was lost for two hours. Four children on their way home from school lost their way, and weren’t found until the storm subsided. At Broken Hill red dust filled the air for hours; in Albury, a thick red pall brought semi-darkness. Dust-clouds extended as far north as Trangie in Queensland and Nyngan in NSW. Rains in February failed to reach the parched inland areas, and dust again blanketed northwest Victoria and much of NSW on 28 February. As late as 23 March, the sun over Melbourne appeared curiously blue through a pall of dust.

    The experience of the 1994-45 season raised much concern about soil erosion, and the need for preventive measures.


    Gales, Southern Australia, 1948 and 1994


    Westerly gales are part and parcel of the climate of southeastern Australia during the cooler months, but 1994 was notable for some particularly powerful events, which inflicted severe damage on at least two occasions. Paradoxically, 1994 was otherwise mostly devoid of the strong frontal systems that normally bring winter rains to the southern states. Strong winds were also a major factor in severe bushfires along the eastern seaboard in January 1994. Autumn was extremely dry over most of the country, and by late May the southern states had seen precious little of the rain that normally brings about an “autumn break”. On 23 May, a low pressure system tracked northeast towards the southwest of Western Australia, intensifying dramatically, and accompanied by fierce and sustained winds. Winds gusted over 130km/h, causing widespread damage to buildings, and extensive power failures. Insurance claims in Perth reached $38 million, an extraordinary toll for a midlatitude storm.

    The deep low pressure system then rolled southeast, and the fierce westerly gales on its northern flank inflicted widespread damage in southern and southeastern Australia over the next three days. The exceptional winds combined with drought led to widespread dust-storms in South Australia, and northwestern and central Victoria. Some $40 million worth of topsoil was quickly stripped from South Australia’s arable lands, and scattered over the southeast and out to sea. Bushfires also broke out over South Australia on the 25th, a rare event for late May.

    In the final act, on 6-7 November, storm-force southwest winds caused extensive damage in southeastern Australia, again raising dust-storms inland and fanning fires in the Brisbane-Gold Coast area. The strongest recorded wind-gust was 152km/h on the Victorian coast, which is comparable with peak wind-gusts in many of the feared tropical cyclones that affect Australia’s northern shores.

    An even bigger event, arguably the “storm of the Century” in South Australia, was the infamous “hurricane” of 11 April 1948. Sustained winds in excess of gale force (more than 63km/h) lashed Adelaide and the southern coast of South Australia for 12 hours. The storm was accompanied by an extraordinary storm surge, with water levels metres above normal, and also by huge waves. The old Glenelg jetty, a popular promenade on warm summer days since 1859, was unable to cope with the sustained onslaught, and was destroyed. The fine, white sands of Glenelg beach were largely swept away, leaving the bedrock exposed.


    he Melbourne dust-storm of February 1983
    In 1982-83, El Niño brought exceptionally dry conditions to almost all of eastern Australia, and in Victoria’s Mallee and northern Wimmera 1982 was the driest or second driest year on record. As vegetation dried off late in 1982, the topsoil was loosened, ready to be blown away by any reasonably strong wind. By late summer there had already been numerous small dust-storms in northwestern Victoria.

    Late on the morning of 8 February 1983 a strong, but dry, cold front began crossing Victoria, preceded by hot, gusty northerly winds. The loose topsoil in the Mallee and Wimmera was quickly picked up by the wind, and as the front moved east, the soil collected into a large cloud oriented along the line of a cool change. At Horsham, in western Victoria, raised dust could be seen by 11am; by noon it had obscured the sky.

    In Melbourne, the temperature rose quickly as the north wind strengthened, and by 2:35pm it had reached 43.2°C, a record February maximum. A short time later, a spectacular reddish-brown cloud could be seen advancing on the city, reaching Melbourne just before 3pm. It was accompanied by a rapid temperature drop, and a squally wind change strong enough to uproot trees and unroof about 50 houses. Visibility plunged to100 metres, and according to witnesses “everything went black” as the storm struck. The worst of the dust-storm was over by 4pm, when the wind-speed dropped rapidly.

    The dramatic dust-storm of 8 February, 1983 over Melbourne, Victoria.

    At its height, the dust-storm extended across the entire width of Victoria, and was many kilometres across. The dust-cloud was some 320m deep when it struck Melbourne, but in other areas extended thousands of metres into the atmosphere. It was estimated that about 50,000 tonnes of topsoil were stripped from the Mallee (approximately 1,000 tonnes of it being dumped on the city), leaving the ground bare, and exacerbating the effects of the drought. Open water channels in the northwest were clogged with sand and dirt. The combined effect of drought and dust-storm inflicted damage on the land that, according to the then President of the Victorian Farmers and Graziers’ Association, would take up to 10 years and tens of millions of dollars to repair.

  9. janama September 23, 2009 at 1:59 pm #

    is this a typo Jen

    “and other parts of arid and semi-arid Australia, in the period 1985 to 1945.” Condon pg. 221”

    should be 1885 – 1945?

  10. spangled drongo September 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    Russell Mockridge! Now there’s a name I haven’t heard for over 50 years.

    But Pikey, have you noticed how well these dust storms work?

    It’s obviously sequestered enough CO2 to bring the temperature down from today’s predicted 32c to our max of 22c.

    “Give me a shipload of iron oxide and I’ll give you an ice age”.

    What a mechanism!

  11. janama September 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    Ron Pike – a friend just posted this

    “Duststorms were a common occurrence in Narrandera. They seemed less when the MIA and Coleambally areas went in. Walking home from school in a duststorm was horrible…the dust would cut our legs and we used our schoolbags to protect them….I remember them well just like old times today.”

  12. Ian Read September 23, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    “When I was a Diamantina drover in the ’50s, at night in a dust storm you had to get up every half hour and re-lay your swag to avoid being buried alive.[slight exaggeration]”

    That is only a very slight exaggeration Spangled Drongo. Last week I was camped near Bransby Station SW of Noccundra in SW Qld. With raised dust reducing visibility to a couple of hundred metres on Bulloo Downs during the day the following calm evening did not prepare my friend and I for the ensuing frontal change early next morning: my friends scalp was reddened by the scouring of grit and his pillow was literally blackened while the pillow in my swag quickly disappeared beneath a sand drift – there were no leisurely cups of tea in camp that morning.

    Somewhat surprisingly we only saw about a 100-kilometre strip of land that could be called drought-affected – otherwise, the countryside looked good, including the wheatbelt country we passed through. Judging by the very red dust I just removed from my car, here in on the NSW south coast, I would have to say it looks as though it is of outback sand dune or sandplain origins, with the exposed unvegetated dune crests of the Strzelecki Desert being a possible source.

  13. jennifer September 23, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    yes typo. will fix. thanks.

  14. spangled drongo September 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    Ian Read,
    I used to do windmill work on Planet Downs which adjoins Bulloo Downs to the NW. Planet is a moonscape of soft red soil, neither channell, sandhill nor gibber country and any wind would “raise the red” at the drop of a hat particularly if overstocked.
    Until whiteman arrived this country probably had nothing other than bilbies grazing on it for millenia.
    The vegetation was always very sparse and many of the “roads” were a foot deep in bulldust. This bulldust is hard to comprehend. Like getting bogged in unwetable red talcum powder. It gets into everything.

  15. janama September 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    Since you mentioned bulldust, Spangled Drongo, I was wondering today what evidence is there that this dust storm is topsoil as everyone keeps saying – is it in fact bulldust – literally 🙂
    the dust that moves around with the wind continually in the dry outback.

  16. Ron Pike September 23, 2009 at 5:15 pm #

    Thanks for that and it seems here at least we all agree that what has happened from late yesterday until now is:
    Not out of the ordinary.
    Massively less severe than what people can clearly remember of the dust storms of the 1940s.
    Todays conditions are what I would call a thick dust haze. Not a real dust storm.
    While the development of the MIA I believe has had some effect on the rainfall patern to the east; I do not believe it has had any impact on the occurance or severity of dust storms.
    Most of these storms are generated further west.
    As for Coleambally, it was only commenced in 1960. ( I was the first settler to use water at Coleambally.)
    The real change that occured across most of southern Australia, began immediately after WW2, with Governments becoming actively involved in soil conservation.
    Trees were being widely planted across both grazing and agricultural land by the early 50s as the Forestry commission set-up nurseries across the State.
    It was opportune that as eroded land was being contour banked and farmed, the CSIRO released myxomatosis, which aided by a number of wet years, quickly wiped out most of the rabbits.
    Sub-clover was also introduced at this time.
    There is also a remarkable story about an introduced weed (skeleton weed), that did much to halt the continuing degredation of farming soils, from 1940 until the late 50s, by effectively stopping winter cropping.
    Haven’t time to tell this remarkable story here.

  17. chrisgo September 23, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    I happened to hear the 5 am ABC news which led with the dust storms, then helpfully segued into the U.N. ‘climate change’ jamboree.

    I suspect the photos attached to the ABC article (posted by DMS,11:50 am) have been enhanced by increasing the colour saturation just a teensy bit : http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/09/23/2693955.htm

    It would be entirely consistent with their treatment of the subject for over a decade.

  18. dribble September 23, 2009 at 6:24 pm #

    While the dust storm blew up north, it rained quite nicely down south in Geelong. A 30mm downpour (well its a downpour in these parts) brought the September total to 59mm, well above the 1971-2008 average of 45mm for this month.

  19. spangled drongo September 23, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    “the dust that moves around with the wind continually in the dry outback.”
    Good thought. I suspect however that most of the dust is good topsoil.
    It is not sand as sandstorms are a lot more local and grains of sand need very strong winds to suspend them [though the lower strata of a dust storm is often a sandstorm as Pikey says about it cutting your legs].
    Topsoil in the centre has often travelled from the old eroded coastal ranges over long times and distances and that is why it is so deep, fine and rich. When it is dry and unvegetated it gets airborn very easily but when it gets wet [and that usually means a flood] it is unbelievably productive. Some of the “fine tilth” in the channel country is almost bottomless.

  20. janama September 23, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    But surely in it’s current environment it’s just dust but in our coastal environment it’s additional “topsoil” i.e. it’s actually become topsoil throughout eastern Australia.

  21. janama September 23, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    I’m saying that this is extremely productive and consistent with natural variability, not the environmental GW/CC disaster that is currently being portrayed.

  22. spangled drongo September 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    I agree. These dust storms are doing some good in redistributing nutrients to more naturally productive areas [ie higher rainfall areas] and seeding an iron-poor Pacific with phytoplankton fertiliser [which of course would reduce CO2 but you ain’t gonna get that story].
    The ABC c/- Kerry, tonight were saying that it reached an all time record in aerial pollution. I wonder how long those records have existed?
    They cannot link this dust storm with AGW but they can infer so many bad things that it makes no difference.
    Mix a little spin and inference to any unusual scenario today and it comes up AGW.

  23. Ian Beale September 23, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    “There’s a dusty gush on the news tonight – – ”

    This rephrasing brought on by the news reports of the day as I was trucking towards Charleville.

    And what I met was a pale shadow of the dust storms (multiple) there in the 1965 drought.

    Pikey – if you study the literature on the salt cedar problem in the semi-arid and arid watercourses of USA and the athel problem in the likes of the Finke River you’ll understand why the weed status of the athel.

  24. Ron Pike September 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm #

    Just a few responses to comments above.
    All dust storms carry top-soil.
    No if, buts or maybes.
    There is no such thing as a good dust storm!
    As custodians of the environment for future generations we should see all dust storms as an example of a need to improve our management.
    We can never make Australia a better environment by transporting inland topsoil to the coast.

    To Ian Beale,
    How is charleville these days?
    I worked around that area in 1956.
    In relation to the Athel Pine. I am familiar with it’s presence in California, Nevada and Arizona, as I travel there regularly.
    All species have a place in our environment and it is only man who can dictate and organise where various species should prevail and enhance the environment.
    Sadly, radical GREEN religion is trying to dictate a narrow, idiological driven, impractical agenda that in many cases is degrading our environment.
    All the best.

  25. J.Hansford September 23, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    Call me slow…. But I finally figured out what that photograph is of, that Jennifer put with this topic….. It’s a photo of the windscreen and wiper of a her car….

    Fer th’ life o’ me, I just couldn’t make head nor tail of it most of the day…. LOL.

  26. jennifer September 23, 2009 at 9:57 pm #

    Hey, Its my mother’s car – and it was covered in red dust. 🙂

  27. Frank September 24, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    Whether you maintain unpaved roadways, shoulders, trails, helipads, stockpiles, heavy traffic roads, baseball diamonds, or horse arenas, our products can solve your most stubborn dust control problems:


  28. gavin September 24, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    As the dust settles we can all learn something…

  29. kuhnkat September 24, 2009 at 8:13 am #

    Ron Pike,

    “There is no such thing as a good dust storm!”

    Not judgemental at all are we!!

    “As custodians of the environment for future generations we should see all dust storms as an example of a need to improve our management.”

    Please provide us with the information with which you made this logical leap!!

    “We can never make Australia a better environment by transporting inland topsoil to the coast.”

    Could you let us in on who the dastardly villains are that are transporting inland topsoil?? I am sure the police will have them in hand as soon as you provide this information!!

  30. el gordo September 24, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    Is it possible that some of that inland top soil from SA is radioactive?

  31. Allan September 24, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    In the mid sixties I recall as a youngster on a family holiday in N.Z going for a guided walk on Franz Joseph glacier.
    The guide pointed to a band of red ice in the ice profile and explained that in was a generous gift of soil from central Australia.
    No doubt there has been research into this by examining the ice cores of N.Z. glaciers.
    The abuse of adjectives appears to still be standard fare by journalists and editors in our popular media.
    Ramp up the fear by all means possible and ignore history.

  32. Ian Mott September 24, 2009 at 9:56 am #

    The BoM is being highly misleading by claiming that the dust has originated in part from NSW. The storm hit Broken Hill from the west and that city is only 40km from the state border. So all the talk about dryer than usual conditions in the western half of NSW is fatuous irrelevant crap.

    Indeed, any link to agriculture in this instance has no substance. The wind direction on 23/09/09 clearly places the source of this dust as North Western SA and South Western NT, one of the least intensive agricultural regions on the planet. Most of it is actually aboriginal land.

    It is also the case that just a few months ago Eastern NT and North Eastern SA had one of the lushest and most widespread groundcovers for a few decades. That ground cover has not been grazed off. It has dried out but it remains in situ between the deeper rooted species that are still doing OK.

    It is intellectually sloppy to be assigning blame for the intensity of a Sydney dust storm on a minor variable like desert vegetation cover. Even a rudimentary grasp of physics would indicate that the primary variable was the intensity of the wind over exposed desert soils and its persistence in transporting the load as far as the east coast. Winds can vary from zero km/h to 100+km/h while normal dry season sandy desert soils will vary between 90% exposed to 100% exposed (ie 0 to 10% FPC). And of course, the gibber (stoney) deserts have even less variation.

    I notice that similar inconsistencies appear in some of Pikey’s historical reports above. A dust storm in Mildura is blamed on NSW farming practices when the wind was clearly blowing from SA. Less than 2% of our land area is subject to cropping and only a small portion of that is caught in the small window of exposed soil and strong dry winds. The overwhelming majority of it involves a successful crop (a ground cover) followed by retained stuble, including retained root systems, followed by re-emergent pasture or weeds.

    It is almost trite to remind people that only a tiny portion of the 2% cropping land is in the western half of NSW. Even less of it is North of the Bight. And it has always been the case in the past. It is also the case that overgrazed pastures still have a complete root system in place to bind the soil. The fact that the casual observer cannot see it does not negate its presence. So while it is possible that minor localised dust storms might have been possible from past farming practices, the big ones were almost entirely natures work.

    Winds blow. And sometimes they blow over deserts and pich up dust. Get used to it.

  33. jennifer marohasy September 24, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    Just filing this here:

    At 19:11 AST (9:11 GMT) on World Update, you had an interview with an Australian journalist regarding the major dust storm. The journalist was atrocious, being unable to pronounce El Nino and La Nina (La Nino???).

    Worse still, she claimed climate scientists were hesitant to claim it due to climate change. Of course! Dust storms are entirely natural events in many parts of the world. Despite this, the host finished with ‘from one climate change to another’. WHAT ROT – BBC World Disservice?


  34. cinders September 24, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    Channel Seven’s Today tonight claimed the Garnaut report warned of these storms, and that we have ignored his call to act see featured Video “Why?” at http://au.todaytonight.yahoo.com/
    They interviewd Professor Pitman Of the NSW UNI Climate Change Research Centre http://www.ccrc.unsw.edu.au/staff/codirectors.html who blamed it in part as a result of human engagement in the Climate System.
    Perhaps the Professor failed to read Motty’s post about western NSW or the BOM record of dust Storms posted here!

  35. janama September 24, 2009 at 12:59 pm #

    Perhaps the Professor failed to read Motty’s post about western NSW or the BOM record of dust Storms posted here!

    undoubtedly because Professor Pitman ” is a climate modeller with a major focus on land surface processes.”

  36. Snapper September 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm #

    It all seems like a big load of “bulldust” to me!!!

  37. Anthony Watts September 24, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    NASA has some great imagery that may help you figure this event out. I have it at WUWT:


    There’s a theory about it originating from Lake Eyre being dry. Any thoughts from people here in the know appreciated.

    – Anthony

  38. Louis Hissink September 24, 2009 at 7:52 pm #


    Lake Eyre is a huge saltpan and I am fairly sure the dust wasn’t salt dust, so the dust could not have come from Lake Eyre.

    That point made, Mott’s point that the dust came from that region prompts me to wonder how fine dust can become windborn almost in a moment. Strong horizontal winds cannot lift fine dust easily – in terms of flow dynamics its mainly laminar flow with turbulence at the air-ground interface. You will get low level dust flow as per sand dune dynamics, but that dust/sand does not then rise vertically to great heights.

    My guess is that the dust particles were electrically charged (which charge I do not know) and might have been exposed to an strong electric field which literally caused those particles to rise into the atmosphere and then to be carried laterally eastwards by the wind.

    Strange that during this period of meteorological stress Victoria was subject to some earthqukes – no subduction zone close to the continent to produce those quakes. There is one theory that earthquakes are some sort of subterranean lightning or electric discharge.ti

    These are left of field suggestions, by the way, based on my field experience. Unfortunately I have not proven these observations by computer modeling or statistical torture, so I must be wrong.

  39. Ian Beale September 24, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    Re Janama 12:59

    Seems time to again suggest that we need a new word –


    – to describe those who spend too much time looking at computer screens and not enough looking out of windows to check

  40. janama September 24, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

    Tonight the 7.30 report actually covered the event extremely well. They didn’t even mention climate change.

    Reporter Paul Lockyer had been at Lake Eyre 4 months ago and he returned today with a great cameraman. He showed how the wild flowers covered the place just as Motty suggested but he also showed how as the lake dries out, which it has, the plains left behind are made up of superfine soil that whirls into the air on even a slight breeze and as it heats up the air rises taking the dust with it.

    They’ll have the story up by the morning. Great photography.


  41. spangled drongo September 24, 2009 at 8:56 pm #

    I watched that too and it doesn’t ring true somehow. The bed of Lake Eyre is very pale, almost white and very salty as Louis says yet that dust that got in my varnish was much redder. I reckon it was sourced from a much wider area as Motty said.
    Did you see the those wildflowers? That Yellowtop used to send our horses blind when it got long enough to brush into their eyes but it would turn a bone rack into a rolling fat beast in three weeks.

  42. Ian Mott September 25, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    Lake Eyre North is only 100km in length so even if it was bone dry it would not produce a dust plume that is more than 1000km wide. The isobars on the synoptic maps trace the wind direction and they were running parallel in a broad band on 23/09/09 producing a wide and continuous plume. From this one can only conclude that the dust was sourced from an equally broad field.

    And in any event, the deeper parts of Lake Eyre get a hard crust of salt that would take more than a wind to shift. Remember the world land speed record was set on the rock hard surface of this lake. Nothing has changed since then other than the gullibility of the public.

  43. Ian George September 25, 2009 at 7:06 am #

    Layers of silt from the recent floods in Qld that flowed through to Lake Eyre could have contributed to the amount of dust and length of the storm but it was probably just caused by the drought conditions of SA and western NSW. One interesting incident during the ‘great dust-up’ in 1902 was the appearance of ‘balls of fire’ due to the static electricity igniting organic matter during the dust storm. Is this what Louis H hints at?

  44. janama September 25, 2009 at 7:32 am #

    I searched to see if there was any correlation between past dust storms and lake Eyre filling – there was none.
    It’s amazing how a fine layer of dust has managed to unearth all the dogooders in the letters section of the SMH. Don’t read it Motty – you’ll smash your puter screen 🙂

  45. Ian Mott September 25, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    We are obviously dealing with what Bob Dylan referred to as an “idiot wind”, from Blood on the Tracks. http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/idiot-wind

    “Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
    Blowing down the backroads headin’ south.
    Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
    You’re an idiot, babe.
    It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”


    “Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
    Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
    Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
    We’re idiots, babe.
    It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”

  46. janama September 25, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    Here’s a comprehensive site on Lake Eyre


  47. Sid Reynolds September 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    As a child I remember the terrible dust storms of 1939 and more especially those of 1944/45, along with the searing heat, winds and bushfires.

    In fact I have just published a book which is currently with the printers, based on my father’s 1944 diary, with my recollections of that year. I have published the book mainly for family and friends, while not for sale it does have an ISBN and a copy will be lodged with the National Library.

    Among other things, the book deals with the terrible dust storms of October and December of that year, along with the heat and bushfires. It should be a timely read for our Grandchildren who have just experienced their first bad dust storm.

    I would have included a few lines but am away from home. We are currently in Alaska, where among other things have viseted several tidewater glaciers, including the mighty Hubbard Glacier. We are told that Alaska’s glaciers, especially the tidewater glaciers are retreating because of “Global Warming”. However all the glaciers we’ve seen are in fact advancing. When we’ve asked if we could see a retreating glacier, we are told that they do exist but not nearby! And we’ve covered n early 1000 miles of S E Alaska!

    And no sign of “Global Warming” here weatherwise!

  48. Jimmock September 25, 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    Don’t forget the coral reef!
    We all know that the Barrier Reef will be bleached by warm water and drowned by rising sea levels, (possibly at the same time – go figure). We know because Penny Wong told us that we need a tax-on-everything to save the reef.
    Now we find that the poor asthmatic coral plants will be choked to death.

  49. spangled drongo September 25, 2009 at 2:51 pm #

    Oh well, it’s an ill wind…….

    I have just spent the day cleaning flyscreens and rehanging newly washed curtains for her indoors.

    It was an overdue job…….apparently.

  50. noeline September 25, 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    The recent dust storm in SE Australia is a symptom of how the complacent people on the east coast of Australia have neglected and abused rural Australia to the west of the range. Abandoned for drought aid, services, irrigation water, drought relief grazing on stock routes or high country left instead to incinerate in horror bushfires in man made fuel loads deprived services of grazing or cool fire, shonky environmental science to engineer cheap city water, smoke free tourism, do nothing public land mismanagement as rural communities are denied a political voice in dealing with particulate urban and industrial pollution chronically inhibiting rainfall 10-60% across SE Australia.

    Mother nature sends city Australia a clear message of her disgust for their insensitive greed as rural Australia bleeds red dust! Decades of pleas ignored. Spin doctors blame “farmers management” for their plight not their making! Farmers wonder why bother trying to feed, clothe, house these people so far removed. Oh dear inconvenienced for “one day” when rural Australia languishes for decades from city incompetence and rort!

  51. moonkoon September 29, 2009 at 12:42 am #

    It seems we haven’t been able to pin down the source of the dust with any degree of certainty.
    Typically, explanations about the origin often blame the agricultural practices of the reprobates over the border. 🙂
    Maybe Louis is onto something with his suggestion that these dust storms have a electrical component, and not just an electrostatic charge buildup from particle interaction with the atmosphere.
    There is no mention of an organic component in the dust.
    Pilots reported that the dust ceiling was at some thousands of metres.
    Cairns residents reported a white rather than red or orange haze.
    All those I have spoken to who experienced the dust described it as very fine with no apparent organic content.

    Although the “lifted and lofted by strong winds from somewhere upwind” theory is very compelling from a conventional scientific point of view (and, as a bonus, gives us a great opportunity to indulge in much anthropic speculation 🙂 ), until we can definitely pinpoint the origin of the dust it would be unwise to exclude other possibilities as to the origin of the dust. The alternatives include the possibility of an extraterrestrial origin for the dust or the electrical energy contained in the dust.

    Now before you choke on your porridge, remember that meteorites are constantly making earth their new home. So maybe, just maybe, we sometimes encounter extraterrestrial dust, dust that contains electrical energy, perhaps.
    This extraterrestrial possibility can be easily falsified by identifying a terrestrial source consistent with the scale and composition of the dust.

    Does this make me a denier? 🙂

  52. Ian Mott September 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    It seems the intellectual giants at QFF (Queensland Farmers Federation) have bought the “sediment into Lake Eyre” scam hook line and sinker. Never mind that the northern half of LE North is the only part that does not get a layer of salt that you cannot crack with a sledge hammer. And this northern half is only about 50km north to south but is supposedly responsible for a dust plume more than 1000km wide. And never mind that the isobars (showing wind direction) on 23/09/09 were running parallel, not splayed, so any dust from there would have extended in a long thin band of the same width in the same way that smoke from large fires do.

    But that won’t deter the sultans of sleaze who will run with just about any crock of bull$hit that sounds plausible to the dumbest decile of the bimbosphere.

  53. moonkoon September 29, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    According to this report, electricity plays a major part in dust storms.

    Dust Storms Are Electric
    Larry O’Hanlon, Discovery News

    Aug. 17, 2006 — It’s not just wind that raises sands and dust devils, say physicists, powerful electrical fields created by wind, sand and dust also levitate more of the nose-tingling stuff into the air…
    … More than 100,000 volts per yard of natural, so called “static” electricity have been measured in desert dust storms and the mini-tornado-like dust devils…


    I like the bit where he assures us that the electricity is “natural”. 🙂
    I guess it one of those chicken and egg situations. Did the electrical energy initiate the motion or is it a product of the wind induced motion?
    100,000 volts/m2 (roughly) seems rather a lot of electrons to gain or lose from just swishing around in a dust devil.

  54. Thomas Finley October 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    Greetings Jennifer, I really enjoyed reading your comments on the massive dust storm that hit your part of Australia recently. These global superstorms seem to be on the rise and this a very disturbing thing which people just are not prepared for. For a hobby I have been collecting unusual news stories and reports of a similar nature since I was in high school back in 1973. I would very much like to include the Australia dust storm of 2009 in this years compendium, may I send you a card in the post so you can write a brief account of the storm and autograph it for me also may include a print of the photo which you took of your Mothers automoblie and its red dusty coating? Please send me a postal address which I may contact you from the UK via air mail.
    Best Regards, Thomas Finley USAF ret. (paranormalist, cryptozoology, and artist with a fondness for the strange)

  55. moonkoon December 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    Another red dust storm is rolling into the south-west Queensland town of Quilpie this morning.
    Local resident Lyn Barnes says visibility is down to a few hundred metres.
    “It is actually more like a big rolling cloud of mist really … there’s very little wind, just the tiniest of breezes, it’s not blowing a gale,” she said.
    “It’s just really this great big cloud of dust has settled over us.
    “We thought with a bit of rain out west this might have all stopped but it’s obviously coming from further beyond.”

    Hmm, I wonder how much “further beyond” Quilpie that might be. 🙂


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