Photo: Shisberg [Flickr]
Residents of Sydney, Australia woke up today to find themselves in the middle of a bizarre dust storm that made the city look like it was on planet Mars! Dust storms are nothing new in Australia, but this one is the worst in decades ... but is it linked to climate change?
Weather scientists are reluctant to directly link climate change with extreme weather events such as storms and droughts, saying these fluctuate according to atmospheric conditions, but green groups link the two in their calls for action to fight climate change.
Dust storms in Australia, the world's driest inhabited continent with a vast desert-like outback interior, are not uncommon. Central and eastern Australia is a major global source of atmospheric dust, say weather experts. But dust storms are usually restricted to the inland of Australia. Occasionally, during widespread drought they can affect coastal areas. Australia is battling one of its worst droughts and weather officials say an El Nino is slowly developing in the Pacific which will mean drier conditions for Australia's eastern states.
Before the Sydney dust storm, one of the most spectacular storms swept across Melbourne in February 1983, late in the severe El Nino drought of 1982/83. The extended dry period of the 1930s and 1940s generated many severe dust storms, culminating in the summer of 1944/45 when on several occasions dust in Adelaide was so thick that street lighting had to be turned on. Satellite images showed a 2002 dust storm, about 1,500 km (930 miles) long by 400 km (250 miles) wide and 2.5 km (1.5 miles) high, stretching across New South Wales and Queensland states.