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Sydney turns red: dust storm blankets city

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Arjun Ramachandran

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Red dawn in Sydney brings chaos

RAW VIDEO: Sydney wakes to crimson and pink skies as dust blown in from the west reduces visibility to metres.

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Sydneysiders have woken to a red haze unlike anything seen before by residents or weather experts, as the sun struggles to pierce a thick blanket of dust cloaking the city this morning.

Callers flooded talkback radio, others hit social networking sites and scores of emails were received from smh.com.au readers as Sydney residents expressed their amazement at this morning's conditions.

It's just red, red, red as far as you can see 

"It's just red, red, red as far as you can see," one caller at the Anzac Bridge told 2GB.

The Harbour Bridge on the morning of the dust storm. Click for more photos

Dust turns Sydney sky red

Sydneysiders have woken to a red haze unlike anything seen before by residents or weather experts, as the sun struggles to pierce a thick blanket of dust cloaking the city this morning. Photo: Chris Button, smh.com.au reader

The fiery haze was the result of the sun hitting the blanket of dust, Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jane Golding said.

"The reason for the dust is we had some really strong winds in the inland areas of NSW and in South Australia for a sustained period yesterday," she said.

"That's lifted a whole lot of dust off the ground because it's quite dry out there, many of those areas are still drought affected."

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MULTIMEDIA: Dramatic photos of Sydney cloaked in red haze
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The lifted dust had been carried by the winds into Sydney.

"I've not seen anything like this before," Ms Golding said.

The reddish haze was expected to fade as the sun got higher in the sky, Ms Golding said. The haze had turned from a crimson red to orange by about 7am, and then faded to yellow by about 7.30am.

But it was not known what would happen to the dust.

"This is such an infrequent event ... it's hard to say when the dust will stop."

Transport chaos

The dust has caused havoc with the city's transport system this morning, with visibility on the roads reduced to just a few hundred metres in some places.

All citybound lanes on the M5 East tunnel were closed earlier this morning because of dust in the tunnel.

The RTA also urged drivers across the state to exercise caution and reduce speed due to "significant dust over the city affecting visibility".

International and domestic flights at Sydney Airport were delayed as a result of the "strong winds and dust haze", a spokesman said.

A number of incoming international flights had been diverted to Melbourne and Brisbane, although some flights had managed to land in Sydney, he said.

While delays were expected throughout the day, the airport was not closed, contrary to some reports, he said.

Sydney's ferries were also suspended due to poor visibility on harbour.

Health problems

Emergency services had also been stretched by the conditions.

The Ambulance Service said it had experienced an increase in calls from asthma sufferers as a result of the dust haze this morning. Some were taken to hospital, a spokeswoman said.

The Fire Brigade received over 500 calls between 3am and 7am, triggered by automatic fire alarms. It normally received only 30 a day in that time period.

"This is one for the books," a spokesman said.

Fire alarms set off

"A lot of fire alarms are particle-type alarms and the dust gets in and sets them off.

"We are flat strap at the moment ... there's going to be a high flow of fire brigade traffic through the metropolitan area today."

Weather to get worse

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning across the state because of widespread damaging winds, which are expected to increase in force across Sydney this morning.

"It's been close to 60km/h already this morning ... it's just a matter of time before it gets stronger," Ms Golding said.

Wind speeds this morning were expected to average over 65km/h, but there would be gusts in excess of 100 km/h, the Bureau said.

The winds would gradually ease over the afternoon and evening, Ms Golding said.

The winds were being whipped up by a cold front that passed through the state yesterday, and a deep low pressure trough over Victoria.

Temperatures this morning in the low 20s, and were expected to remain that way for the rest of the day, Ms Golding said.

Last night, large hailstones fell in parts of Goulburn and Wagga, while wind gusts exceeded 90km/h, the Bureau said. A 109km/h gust was reported at Moss Vale, it said.

The State Emergency Service of NSW received about 175 calls for help from residents of Crookwell, near Goulburn, as a result of fallen trees and damaged roofs, a spokeswoman said.

Despite the sun rising at 5.43am, the city was still a dark orange haze at 7am this morning.

Many residents took to social networking sites, with Sydney one of the top 10 topics on Twitter this morning.

Public schools across the state were open, an Education Department spokesman said.

"But given the circumstances if parents are concerned about the effects of the high levels of dust in the air and if their children suffer from asthma or other breathing problems then they can keep their children at home," he said.

60 comments

  • I've never seen anything like it before either but....
    I am still not convinced that climate change is the resposibility of humanity. Where are the undeniable facts (scientific evidence) that climate change is man made and not a natural phenomena?

    Commenter
    PeteKL
    Date and time
    September 23, 2009, 9:17AM
    • like Sydney, if it were on Mars! wow. got some great photos myself

      Commenter
      spaceagesoup
      Location
      Glebe
      Date and time
      September 23, 2009, 9:18AM
      • Maybe we should start actually doing something about climate change?

        Commenter
        Max
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 23, 2009, 9:28AM
        • This is a barely a dust storm, just loads of particles relocated due to dryness and a wind change, and not intrinsically anything to do with climate change. Whatever gave you that idea?

          But there is plenty of documented evidence for anthropological climate change. You just have to look and also, not be suffering from denial. Earth's weather systems are a closed system. We drive change everyday. You do it by breathing, driving, eating, consuming. It is unavoidable.

          The amount of change we garner has increased exponentially, even relative to our exponential population growth over the past thousand years.

          Even mathematically it's quite simple to see that you can't keep putting more and more people on a planet, converting more and more of its oxygen into various oxides (via breathing and waste from development/technology) and expect nothing to change.

          But I guess there are plenty of people like you out there who would rather wait and see. I don't think it's worth the risk. This is our home.

          Commenter
          spaceagesoup
          Location
          Glebe
          Date and time
          September 23, 2009, 9:32AM
          • Peter you've to stop listening to the deniers, they have no credibilty, there only out to confuse the public to serve the interests of big energy companies, there's mountains of evidence.

            Commenter
            stuart
            Location
            sydney
            Date and time
            September 23, 2009, 9:37AM
            • Why do we need "undeniable facts" before we act--especially if, as many of our best efforts tell us, waiting for those facts will simply mean it's too late?

              If nothing else, it's about risk management. Risk: we are all going to have our lives irrevocably changed for the worse by climate change as seas rise, global population size hits capacity, and third world countries become increasingly (and justifiably) jealous of the relative stability and security of first-world metropolises.

              Method to avoid risk: shift to a low-carbon economy with sustainable and ecologically sound foundations that will serve our children, our children's children, and countless generations beyond.

              Pain inflicted: transition will result in job losses and a requirement for workers in some sectors to modify or re-learn skills.

              Cost-benefit analysis: job losses vs. war and enforced but unplanned-for change when our fossil fuels run out.

              Guess what folks, neither the Government nor Science! are going to help any time soon. It's up to us.

              Commenter
              cynarion
              Date and time
              September 23, 2009, 9:40AM
              • PeteKL -- Evidence of climate change: www.ipcc.ch

                Commenter
                Guy
                Date and time
                September 23, 2009, 9:50AM
                • @PeterKL "Where are the undeniable facts (scientific evidence) that climate change is man made and not a natural phenomena?"

                  Right here: Start with the Summary for Policy Makers and delve as deeply as you like, even go beyond the report and read the several thousand peer-reviewed articles cite. Or you might care to wait a few months for the 5th report.

                  Commenter
                  Killjoy
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  September 23, 2009, 9:50AM
                  • This is Sydney - so please tell us who to blame and sue for this gross inconvenience. Why weren't we told ? Anyone wanna join me in a class action ?

                    Commenter
                    Louie
                    Location
                    Sydney
                    Date and time
                    September 23, 2009, 9:52AM
                    • It's about that load of our topsoil that was just delivered. How's $10 per tonne sound? No charge for the freight.

                      Commenter
                      Steve Flecknoe-Brown
                      Location
                      Broken Hill
                      Date and time
                      September 23, 2009, 9:55AM

                      More comments

                      Comments are now closed

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