Throwback Thursday: Eight years since the dust storm blew into the Gong

It had barely been seen before in the Illawarra, and has not been seen since. 

Saturday marks eight years since the red dust storm blanketed the region on September 23, 2009.

Fairfax Media reported at the time the air conditions were 35 times worse than during bushfire.

Flights were grounded and shipping movements, guided by orange beacons obscured in the eerie haze, ground to a halt. 

How it was reported on the day

The Illawarra woke to a thick red haze this morning unlike anything seen in recent history after gales blew dust from the state's west over the region.

The sky turned a fiery red at dawn as the sun struggled to pierce the thick blanket, which descended on the region in the early hours of this morning.

Cars were caked with dirt, houses and footpaths tinged in red and backyard pools filled with mud as the storm reduced visibility to just 500m in some areas.

Social networking sites were flooded with comments as Illawarra residents expressed their amazement at this morning's conditions, while scores of readers also sent in their pictures.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the dust storm stretched from the South Coast up to the north-east of the state, and was expected to remain across the region most of today

Severe weather forecaster Deryn Griffiths said the dust that landed on the Illawarra this morning had been picked up on the winds over South Australia and inland NSW.

“The winds started picking up the dust two days ago over South Australia, and picked up further dust as it came across NSW,” she said.

“This is caused by the pro-longed westerly winds plus the dry conditions.”

She said visibility in Nowra had dropped to just 500m, while in Sydney, visibility was reduced to 1km.

The last time visibility dropped that low was in 1944, bureau figures showed.

The State Emergency Service had crews on standby this morning, however regional learning and development officer Robbie Landon said most of the calls were related to strong winds in the Wingecarribee and Mittagong areas.

“Most of the calls have been related to the winds. We have got units on standby to assist the community if we have other jobs come through,” he said.

“The dust is not causing damage. Most of the advice is just to stay indoors, and hopefully it will blow over in the next couple of hours.”

The NSW Ambulance Service said it had experienced an increase in calls from asthma sufferers as a result of the dust haze this morning.

Some were taken to hospital, a spokeswoman said.

The Fire Brigade received many calls between 3am and 7am, triggered by automatic fire alarms.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning across the state because of widespread damaging winds, which are expected to increase in force this morning.

Wind speeds this morning were expected to average over 65km/h, but there would be gusts in excess of 100 km/h, the Bureau said.

The winds would gradually ease over the afternoon and evening.

This story Eight years since a dust storm turned the Gong red: photos first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.


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