11.50am: Great North Road, Fivedock. Visibility is less than 400 metres. Cars are covered in spots of mud from using windscreen wipers. Thin drifts of yellow and grey dust are grooved with tyre tracks. Strong gusts of wind carry fragments of plant material through the air, which is full of white dust now that the sun is high and it no longer looks as blood red as at dawn. No Dorothy, no Tin Man, no wicked Witch, so far.

Dry dust collects wherever it can. It smells and tastes, well, like dirt.

On TV, people in the CBD have shoes covered in dust, their clothes are covered in dust. Those with hair have dust in it. People have dust in their eyes, where it stings a bit. Overnight, the Sydney basin became a great dust trap. By dawn, the high winds had made it look Mars, blood red.

A significant part of the top soil of the drought afflicted inland had been carried across the ranges by wild north westerlies and then dropped onto the metropolitan area. As the dust infiltrated the Sydney “bowl” pre dawn it carried static charges which may have added to brief lightning display. And the odd shower mixed in with it made it into mud where it fell.

As the day became brighter the red gave way to yellow, grey and blowing mist of white dust. Canberra had a half hearted preview of this in its dust storm yesterday, but this was the real deal.

The Weather Bureau says it is the worst such dust storm in 70 years, which is more or less, living memory. Relief may not come until this evening.

The Perisher webcam shows the storm coming in.

Just after 9am David Marr tells drivers trapped by the consequences of the closure of the M5 East tunnel that “…people who listen to too much Handel have been asking if this is of Biblical origin … our research tells us it isn’t … However if this prove to be the case…this will be followed by lice, mice, locusts, frogs … and the death of the first born.”

It is hard to hear David amid the howling pandemonium, but he said something like that.

The M5 East is so poorly ventilated the authorities obviously closed it for fear of how it would handle dust laden air.

At Sydney Airport, surprise, flights are in chaos, which means they are in chaos throughout most of the country. And the airport web site server has choked nearly to death too, not from the dust it seems but anxious travellers wondering where their jets are. (Go home, the airport is the pits.)

But the ski web cams are up. Ooh, red snow, another surprise! The slopes had been bared by “hot” rain and winds in recent days. Now they are covered in a thin layer of dirty snow. An inglorious if colourful end to a generally pathetic season.

As for Sydney, hair, homes, and maybe even lungs, are going to need serious cleaning when this is all over. Assuming it is over, and not something extra we need to get used to in an abused environment.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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