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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dust Storm

The day before yesterday, driving back to the coast from the nearest town, I did my usual thing of gazing at a panorama of ocean a moment at the crest of one hill before dipping down into our village. This time, it was disappointing: the water dull, and a strange haze in the air.

Next day (Wednesday 23rd) I went to my Tai Chi class at 9am. Nothing much to notice then. I had my chiropractic appointment at 11.15, and as I walked there I noticed that the fine day seemed to be getting overcast. When I left, the chiropractor and his receptionist both came to the door and looked out at the thick yellowish haze now coming over the hills. It had an eerie quiet to it. "Ominous," they agreed. We couldn't figure out what it was. I thought there might be a bushfire somewhere – and yet it wasn't smoke we were seeing.

I went home, turned on the local news, missed most of it but got something about motorists needing to be careful of "the dust from Newcastle" so I Googled that. I found out there had been a huge dust storm way off in the outback desert, exacerbated by gale force winds which blew it eastwards, and by some bush fires along its path. It had blacked out the whole of Broken Hill the previous night, and then moved on to cloak Sydney and Newcastle in an eerie orange-red glow by Wednesday morning.

By 12.30 in the afternoon it was well and truly here - not red as in Sydney but a nasty pale yellow that didn't look healthy. And it was not healthy, of course. In Sydney asthmatics and others ended up in hospital. We got off fairly lightly here by comparison with other places, but we could certainly smell it and knew we were breathing it in somewhat. The day got darker and darker.

Soon the whole sky was blanketed from underneath, and the day and evening became quite cold – strange for this time of year in this part of the country –  presumably because of the sun being blocked off. When night came it seemed much darker than usual.

The satellite weather picture on the evening news showed a massive cloud that moved across from South Australia and central Australia to the east coast, stretching from south of Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria (the most northeastern point of the country) and as wide as half the State. They said it probably was not an effect of climate change, but one wonders. They also said it was by far the worst dust storm in our recorded history. Here's a NASA view of it from space.

I had no trouble finding a topic for yesterday's 30 Poems in 30 Days prompt: "Write a poem in which a similar or identical phrase is repeated three or more times throughout the poem."

Dark Sky in Daylight

Once upon a time
this was a lush continent
but that was long ago.
Now we have drought.

Our dry inland “outback”
dry like this for centuries
became that way long ago.
Now we have desert.

Today there’s a haze
thickening the whole eastern sky.
Wind and fire outback yesterday,
now we have dust.

We have it here
far from the red centre,
blown all that way yesterday.
Now we have darkness.


Amazing, on waking this morning, to find blue, sunny skies and no trace of the dust to be seen. Even now, though, well into the afternoon, I only have to sniff a bit and I can still smell it. It prompted a tanka (a form I'm playing with a lot lately in an attempt to learn it).

A fresh Spring morning
yesterday’s choking dust cloud
vanished from this coast –
to infiltrate the ocean
or arrive in New Zealand?


Photos here (Sydney).


  1. Wow. I didn't even really know about these things, but I just looked one up on Youtube, and they look pretty terrifying. I find the idea of darkness during the day quite scary anyway; combined with the dust and the nasties you inhale, it must be horrible. Oddly beautiful from the outside though, or at least, it was in the video I saw. Funny how it just drifts away...

  2. It's been a rare though not unknown event in this country. The last big one - not as big as this latest - was in Melbourne in 1983, and people thought either that nuclear winter was upon us or the aliens (extra-terrestrial) had invaded – the two major fears in those days. Now we think apocalypse or global warming.

  3. i couldn't believe the photos that were coming out of the dust storm :) glad to read some poetry is coming out as well!

  4. Thanks, Jessie! I think poets are so blessed that they always have something positive to do with adversity, lol!

  5. The photos from Sydney were fascinating. Glad it didn't hit you so badly. Global warming is real. We've had the most bizarre weather in the US the last couple of years.

  6. Yes it's real all right! Bizarre weather everywhere, I think.