In this province, weve been known to complain or brag, depending on the audience about our wild weather, and how we manage to get a bit of everything.
One thing we dont get is dust storms. Last week, the headlines were ablaze with news of the eerie orange cloud that hit eastern Australia, including Sydney.
When I learned that Heidi Buttrose, a former colleague of mine, was in Australia and had witnessed the storm, I sent her a series of questions, via Facebook. I began by asking her what its like to live through a dust storm.
The best thing you can do in a dust storm is stay inside and make sure all the windows and doors are closed, said Heidi, who is originally from Australia. But even then, you can still smell and taste the dust. It covers everything. It is like a very fine powder.
I asked if it is merely unpleasant to go outdoors or is it dangerous?
It can be quite dangerous. Obviously children and elderly people are at a higher risk but worse than that is people with lung diseases or asthma. I haven't had a bad asthma attack in years and the dust bought it on just like that. I am still not quite back to normal and then we got hit with another (although not as bad) storm. The dust is quite suffocating and on top of that carries a lot of pollens. The storm also shut down all flights and ferries, as visibility was extremely poor. It basically shut down the cities.
So do people actually die in dust storms?
People can die from these things but I don't think there were any reported fatalities this time, although there were an awful lot of emergency calls and patients admitted to hospital. They said it was the worst storm since the 40's. One guy in the outback flipped his truck and, because they couldn't get to him, he says he covered his face with his really long beard for something like 10 or 12 hours and barely survived.
When the storm is over, there is dust everywhere, Heidi said.
Mostly you can see it on the plants and cars, but also throughout the house there is a thin layer of dust everywhere. Today driving up the coast, because there hasn't been any rain, it just looked like smog and pollution. Nothing seems the worse for wear though. The drought they have been having has taken a toll already so this just seems like an extension of that.
Heidi said dust storms are not rare in Australia, and occur frequently in the outback.
The reason this is so bad is that it hit the cities. As I said before, Australia has had very little rain for a long time now, absolutely due to global warming. I guess normal conditions would stop the storm from coming anywhere close to us but everything is so dry it just kept going and picked up steam along the way. It was supposed to go all the way to New Zealand, which is pretty wild.
I asked how Heidi, a seasoned veteran of Newfoundland weather, would compare a dust storm to one of our blizzards.
As far as bringing everything to a halt, for poor visibility and for trying to get around, it is just like a blizzard. The biggest difference is that fact that no matter how you try you can't keep it from getting in your house or your lungs.
Nasty. Ill take a blizzard any day any day after January 1st, that is.
For a startling gallery of images from the Australia dust storm, click here.
To see how it would feel to drive into a dust storm (hint: its like the end of the world) check this video, recorded in Australia in 2007.