Australia Flashback: Dust Storm of the Century!

When I started this blog I knew that if I ever ran short of ideas for posts, I had plenty of material saved up from my time in Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, etc.  Well, that time has come.  I’m not so much running short of ideas as I am of time and energy to go out into the woods for inspiration; temperatures this week have climbed into the nineties, which, when combined with the godawful humidity of Ohio summer, feels like living at the bottom of a warm, sticky lake.  Add to that a demanding job, and it’s just been a while since I’ve hit the trails by myself with my camera.  It’s on my to-do list for this weekend.

So.  Let me tell you a story.

I spent last fall in the Australian Outback, working as a field assistant for a PhD student studying bird behavior.  (Little brown birds, not anything exciting like Emus or Wedge-tailed Eagles, though both of those were fairly common at our field site.  One thing I learned was that Emus are not particularly enthusiastic nest builders, as you can see from the Emu “nest” below, with my feet for scale.)

Because it was a desert ecosystem – one that made southern Arizona look almost lush in comparison – it was fairly common on windy days for a certain amount of dust to be whipped up into the air.  The first time I saw the horizon go brown with dust I was deeply impressed.  A real live dust storm!  How exotic!

I had no idea what was in store.

One afternoon it started to get dusty, and then it just kept getting dustier.

And dustier.

I somehow missed getting any photos or video of the absolute blackest part of the storm, but a quick YouTube search for “dust storm in Broken Hill” (Broken Hill being the nearest town) yields endless clips taken around 3:30PM by bamboozled locals.  Yes, that’s right, this video of what appear to be car headlights in the middle of the night was taken at three-thirty in the afternoon.

We put cloths along the bases of all the doors to the outside to keep the dust out of the house, but with limited success; during the worst part of the storm the air was pretty thick with it even inside, and it was just lucky that none of us had respiratory problems.  It was fun to clean up, too.  Here is our partially swept bathroom floor the next day (our bathroom had an outside door for some reason).

This dust storm went on to hit Sydney, which according to my parents actually merited a small mention in the news in America, and even made it all the way across the sea to New Zealand.  People told me afterward that it was the worst dust storm Australia had seen in seventy-some years.  It has its own Wikipedia article.

All I know is it was like the apocalypse, or being suddenly transported to Mars, or something.

Never let it be said that I don’t have an interesting life.

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