A 500km wall of dust stretching almost the entire length of NSW is bearing down on Sydney, prompting warnings from health authorities.
Strong winds from a low pressure system has whipped up masses of dirt across the drought-stricken state, which is steadily heading to the coast.
The skies over Sydney are expected to turn a deep red by late morning, with weather experts warning anyone with asthma or other respiratory problems to stay indoors.
‘The dust isn’t far away. We’re currently in the Blue Mountains – the dust storm is situated there right now and it’s quickly moving east,’ Dean Narramore from the Bureau of Meteorology told Channel Nine on Thursday morning.
Sydney will be blanketed by a thick red haze on Thursday as a dust storm sweeping across New South Wales tears its way towards the Harbour City
Strong winds from a low pressure system has whipped up masses of dirt across the drought-stricken state, which is steadily heading to the coast
The skies over Sydney are expected to turn a deep red by late morning, as the dust storm moves east from western NSW
‘Much of central NSW is covered in dust. We should see that move towards the coast in the coming hour. As we move into late morning hours we should see that dust thicken up and get hazy around the Sydney and coastal parts of NSW.’
The main band was moving slowly over the Great Dividing Range by early Thursday morning.
‘It’s a huge system,’ Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Anita Pyne told AAP.
‘We’re expecting the dust to gradually increase over the next few hours, with the main band of dust to hit Sydney through the middle of the day or early afternoon. So the worst visibility is yet to occur.’
The dust is expected to keep sweeping east and may not clear the coast until Friday.
A number of dust storms have already hit western parts of New South Wales in recent weeks
NSW Health is warning the dust will likely reduce air quality and has urged children, older people and those with respiratory conditions to take extra care.
‘If possible, stay in air-conditioned premises where filtration systems can help to reduce dust particles in the air,’ environmental health director Richard Broome said in a statement.
‘Dust may aggravate existing heart and lung conditions and cause symptoms like eye irritation and cough.’
The conditions bear a striking resemblance to 2009’s ‘red dawn’ – one of the worst dust storms in Australia’s history.
Though spectacular, Mr Narramore warned such events can be potentially deadly.
‘The dust can get in [the lungs] and you start coughing and wheezing. Be careful about that out and about,’ he said.
‘Especially later today… There’ll be a fair bit of dust blowing around as we move into late morning hours.’
It’s unknown if the weather event will be as severe as the 2009 storm, but further warnings will be issued if that is the case.
Footage of the storm, filmed from inside the White Cliffs Hotel in far west NSW on Wednesday, shows the swirling dust turn everything in sight a husky red colour.
White Cliffs Hotel Manager Olivia Probyn told Daily Mail Australia the storm had a ‘mad max/apocalyptic’ feel to it.
‘Just blew the town red!’ White Cliffs Hotel Manager Olivia Probyn told Daily Mail Australia the storm had a ‘mad max/apocalyptic’ feel to it
Sydneysiders have been told to brace for a dust storm (pictured is 2009’s ‘red dawn’)
‘Just blew the town red, bright red! And although it was bright it was that thick I couldn’t see across the road to the general store!’ she said.
The storm left dust piles everywhere and the clean up was quite the task, she added.
‘[It’s] still gritty but what can you do, we love [it] out in the bush… That was today…next couple of days will be interesting!’ she said.
In 2009, the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge were barely visible and flights in and out of the city were cancelled as the dust storm swept across the city.
The storm is expected to hit Sydney and Canberra on Thursday – but it is unknown if it will rival 2009’s ‘red dawn’ (pictured are children playing in Balmain in 2009)
Bureau of Meteorology weather services manager Jane Golding said its computer model suggested Thursday’s event could be comparable.
‘A frontal system generates some really strong westerly winds, and that frontal system ends up producing a low pressure system to the south of the country which picks up even more vigorous winds,’ Ms Golding told the ABC.
She said while the entire state and the ACT could be at risk, the dust storm’s reach would depend on the strength of the winds.
An Airservices Australia spokesperson said Sydney Airport has advanced procedures to allow for landing and taking off in low visibility conditions.
However, if conditions were to worsen there is potential for flight delays.
WHY ARE DUST STORMS SO DANGEROUS AND WHAT TO DO IF ONE HITS YOUR CITY
The skies above Broken Hill were turned a deep red as a dust stormed engulfed the rural city in October
Dust storms are natural events, and are common in parts of the world with dryland areas.
Much of Australia’s land surface is made up of deserts and semi-arid rangelands.
Periods of severe and widespread drought can dramatically increase the likelihood of major dust storms, particularly during the summer months.
Dust storms reduce air quality and visibility, and may have adverse effects on health, particularly for people who already have breathing-related problems.
Dust particles vary in size from coarse (non-inhalable), to fine (inhalable), to very fine (respirable).
A surfer walks up the sand in a dust storm at Bondi Beach in Sydney during 2009’s dust storm
Coarse dust particles generally only reach as far as the inside of the nose, mouth or throat.
Smaller or fine particles, however, can get much deeper into the sensitive regions of the respiratory tract and lungs.
These smaller dust particles have a greater potential to cause serious harm to your health.
The following precautions can help you protect yourself and minimise the adverse effects of a dust storm:
- Avoid outdoor activity. If you must go outside, spend as little time outside as possible.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or damp cloth to reduce exposure to dust particles. A P2 or P3 mask, available from hardware stores, should block even the finest particles if fitted correctly over the nose and mouth.
- Avoid vigorous exercise, especially if you have asthma, diabetes or a breathing-related condition.
- Stay indoors, with windows and doors closed. Stay in air-conditioned premises, if possible.
SOURCE: NSW HEALTH