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‘Apocalyptic’ dust storm hits Mildura, Victoria on Code Red bushfire day, Australia

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As Victoria issued a Code Red bushfire alert, Mildura residents witnessed a frightening dust storm on November 21, 2019. The dust swept through the town at 40 km/h (25 mph) while the sweltering temperature hit 40 °C (104 °F).

Dramatic images and footage showed the skies, with residents describing the scene "apocalyptic" and "unbelievable".

"The dust in the air is just so thick. The sky is now deep orange, and the wind is harsh," a resident said.

Another resident named Sophie Appleby described the situation, saying, "What is really eerie is that everything goes quiet. There’s no birdsong, there’s nothing. It’s really bizarre and you know you are in the worst of it when the birds stop singing."

She added, "I have been here for 10 years and have never experienced anything like this. We used to have a dust storm a year, this is now a weekly basis. At its worst, I couldn’t see across the road. This time the heat, because it is 40 °C (104 °F), coupled with the dust just made it unliveable. You couldn’t go outside."

Appleby said the extended drought caused the dust storms to occur frequently. "We haven’t seen rain in months. It is absolutely climate-induced. The drought in this region is crippling farmers. And the dust in the sky is that farmers’ topsoil. When you put it into perspective like that it is terrifying."

Narelle Hahn-Smith, a fellow local, said greed and diversion of irrigation water had worsened the conditions.

"I’ve lived in Mildura for 52 years. We do get dust storms if we’ve had a dry winter but because we’ve had two seasons of failed crops our farming district is struggling."

"If you’ve got zero allocation of water there is less water going on to crops, which causes less evaporation, which causes less rain. It is an ongoing cycle. My feeling is that part of our drought is man-made through greed," she continued.

According to a spokesman from the Bureau of Meteorology, the visibility had dropped to 3 km (1.9 miles) for most of the northwestern part of the state.

"The wind change has made it much worse and visibility has dropped to about 500 m to a kilometer (0.3 to 0.6 miles). Since then conditions have not improved a great deal." the forecaster said.

Senior forecaster Kevin Parkin said the wind gusts and heat that swept across Victoria were similar to the conditions experienced by people in New South Wales and Queensland earlier this month as the states were hit by bushfires.

"It was really like someone had opened the baking oven and hot air ensued," he said.

"Fortunately this is just a one-day wonder, we're looking at mild, settled weather tomorrow and across the weekend, so temperatures back to what we would normally expect in November."

The same city was hit by a massive unseasonal dust storm on May 7, 2019, quickly turning day into night. This kind of phenomenon is usually seen in summer, not just before winter, meteorologists said at the time.

The storm moved through Mildura airport at 17:00 local time with wind gusts to 57 km/h (35 mph), the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said. Walpeup recorded gusts to 87 km/h (54 mph) and Hopetoun to 85 km/h (52 mph).

Featured image credit: @dfrigerio/Twitter

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