The Sydney Harbour Bridge, blanketed by a red haze (photo: Ian Sanderson)
Sydneysiders woke to a strange sight early this morning. A massive dust storm had swept across the state, blanketing Sydney in a plume of dust that stretched for over 600km. It turned the sky an eerie orange-red and I’ve never seen anything like it. It felt like we had been transported to Mars.
The colour came from the red soil and dust of the outback, which had been whipped up and carried inland by fierce gale force winds; it’s estimated the dust plume travelled over 1500 kilometres to reach Sydney. Scientists are saying it might be the worst dust storm in NSW’s history, which I can believe. The pollution in Sydney was awful all day and you couldn’t breathe easily, even after the haze had started to lift.
I was still awake when the dust storm hit. It was incredible; the wind howled and the entire sky seemed to go blood-red in minutes, so much so that I couldn’t see more than 20 metres down the street. The last time I can remember anything like it was after the Black Saturday bushfires, when the sky reflected the fire and there was an overwhelming smell of ash. But even those skies didn’t compare to this; this was like stepping onto another world.
With the UN climate conference beginning in New York, some green groups have suggested that it’s more evidence of global warming. I’m not so sure. Usually I’d be the first person to agree but nature doesn’t need a reason to be wonderful or terrible; I think sometimes these kind of freak occurrences just happen and we shouldn’t ascribe everything to global warming without evidence. I found it very beautiful, despite the chaos it caused.
Unfortunately I didn’t think to take any photos; I didn’t realise how widespread it was at the time. But there are some incredible photos on Flickr and I thought I’d post some of them to give an idea of what it was like. There’s still a dusty smell in the air and the winds are still strong even now, 18 hours later.
I doubt I’ll see anything like it again in my lifetime. Unless I go to Mars.
Another view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from beneath, the eerie light reflecting off the harbour. The bridge just seems to fade away and you can barely see the other side. (photo: Ian Sanderson)
Here the Sydney Opera House has all but disappeared, with the dust at its peak in the early morning. Ferry services were cancelled until the haze cleared. (photo: NSW Maritime)
Sydney’s Oxford Street seems transformed, the sidewalks almost deserted. The sepia tones remind me of a scene from the early years of photography. (photo: Cowboy Dave)
St Mary’s Cathedral, lit up a brilliant shade of pink-red. You can see where some of the dust has settled on the grass as well. (photo: JezKerwin)
Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, in the heart of the CBD, as the haze has started to lift. Looks like many people found masks or are using tissues to cover their mouths. (photo: Dr. Snafu)
Sydenham station is one of the major railway links in Sydney. The station was blanketed by the red dust and trains were late or cancelled for much of the morning. (photo: MOles)
Bondi Beach Park in the early hours of the morning. You can’t see it here but some people still took an early morning swim, despite the pollution and low visibility. (photo: sebr)
A traffic button at a pedestrian crossing, showing the accumulation of dust. It covered most vehicles as well. You wonder how much work it will be, cleaning up tomorrow. (photo: Malcolm Treddinick)