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Dust storm covers Sydney in red

Australia's worst dust storm in 70 years swept up thousands of tons of topsoil and dumped it over Sydney. Such storms could grow bigger and more frequent with climate change.

By Correspondent / September 23, 2009

A dust storm blankets Sydney's iconic Opera House at sunrise on Wednesday. A huge outback dust storm swept eastern Australia and blanketed Sydney disrupting transport, forcing people indoors and stripping thousands of tonnes of valuable farmland topsoil.

TIM WIMBORNE/REUTERS

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The massive dust storm that turned Sydney an eerie red Wednesday has swept up Australia’s eastern coast to Brisbane, leaving Sydney residents to breath easier after the worst air pollution on record was recorded Wednesday.

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But Australians are left wondering if such dust storms will become more common – and whether climate change is to blame.

The current storm, the biggest in 70 years, dumped thousands of tons of dust on Sydney. It reduced visibility, forced international flights to be diverted, and interrupted ferry traffic. It was caused when the powerful winds of an inland storm picked up topsoil from land parched after years of harsh drought, carrying it to the large cities on the coast.

Check out the Monitor's photo gallery of the storm in Sydney.

The Herald reports that it stretched 600 km (370 miles) along the coast of New South Wales Wednesday and dumped 75,000 tons of dust per hour into the Tasman Sea.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that the particle pollution in Sydney from this storm was "10 times the worst on record." The city has not seen a comparable storm since the 1940s.

Dust storms are common in inland Australia, but they rarely make it out to the coast. The continent is suffering from one of the worst droughts on record, making topsoil susceptible to winds. And according to some scientists, Australia could expect the problem to continue given the changing climate, reports The Herald.

But just because dust storms may grow more prevalent in a warming climate doesn’t mean this one was caused by global warming. Scientists have been hesitant to pin the blame on climate change. As the Herald reports, such a storm is a natural effect of a long drought, and “any single weather event can be attributed to random factors that could occur with or without the effect of human-induced climate change.”

Reuters reports that Australian weather officials have warned that another dust storm could materialize over the next few days. An El Nino phenomenon is also developing in the Pacific, which could mean even more dryness for Australia’s eastern states, reports the newswire.

According to The Age, an Australian newspaper, it has been a rough couple of days on the continent weather-wise.

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