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Western NSW residents still cleaning up dust one year from apocalyptic storm

By Jen McCutcheon, Tuesday January 19, 2021 - 12:58 EDT
ABC image
The dust storm blocked out the sun, plunging multiple towns into complete darkness. - ABC

After the best harvest in a decade, images of an apocalyptic orange cloud which blanketed towns in western New South Wales a year ago seem like a distant memory.

The dust storm on January 19, 2020, spread from Broken Hill across to Nyngan, Parkes and Dubbo, leaving many residents in complete darkness.

Towns including Nevertire and Narromine were also left without power for hours.

It was the fourth dust storm in a week.

A year on, the grass is green and the sky is blue, but the clean up of fine red dirt continues.

"Yep, it does not go away by itself," Gilgandra local Geoff Kiehne said.

"Just move something, not recently moved, and there it is, bloody dust."

More rain, less dust storms

Australian National University honorary Associate Professor John Leys said the amount of dust blowing around the western region was dramatically less than previous years because of summer rainfall events.

"The dust storm numbers have decreased by about 10-fold, and that's thanks to the rain we've had in the past 12 months," he said.

Mr Leys said ground cover had grown exponentially in recent months.

"I think this shows that even though the ground cover is slowly increasing because you've had those wet days the soil is wet and that also stops the dust," he said.

"So there's been a massive decrease in the amount of dust in the western part of the state especially compared to the previous year."

Satellite data from the national science agency CSIRO has found ground cover is back to about 40 per cent in New South Wales.

"The level of recovery is about halfway," Mr Leys said.

"In the best seasons it is about 80 per cent, but in the worst of the seasons like last year, we were down to 20 per cent.

"So we are better than we were last year but far off normal."

Dust removal continues

Two tonnes of dust from the drought has been removed from an athletics track in Dubbo.

The track has been closed to the public while it was cleaned by a specialist team from Sydney.

Dubbo Regional Council's director of liveability Skye Price said the granulated surface filled up with fine red dirt from dust storms.

"The dust wasn't apparent to the naked eye, and it gets embedded in that type of surface, so it was quite a process to clean it up," she said.

Peter Luffman, who runs a cleaning business, said it was the most debris he had ever seen removed from a track.

"Drought red dust contributions from Broken Hill to Narromine had filled up of the rubber granulated surface with fine red dust which was exactly the same colour as the track," he said.

"This compacted dust would have been compromising the tracks performance."


© ABC 2021

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