Citizen-science program finds dust storms are occurring with record-breaking frequency

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Dust storms have been occurring with record-breaking frequency in 2019, according to data collected from a citizen-science DustWatch program.

The program, now in its 15th year, has volunteers across western New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

According to the most recent data available, Broken Hill in the far-west of NSW experienced 115 hours of dust during the month of October.

Further east, the small township of Ivanhoe had double that amount, with 230 hours of dust recorded.

Senior scientist with the Department of Environment, Stephan Heidenreich, said the figures were record breaking.

Mr Heidenreich said dust storms have been having a greater impact on more populated, urban locations.

“The unusual thing this time is actually that the central-west and the north-west have enough exposed soil to create their own dust storms,” he said.

“It’s having a serious impact even on the coastal fringe.

“A lot of dust storms are making it to Sydney and Newcastle.”

Continuous dust storms ‘a real kick in the guts’

Jed Wilson is from Yalda Downs Station in north-west NSW.

After destocking completely at the beginning of January 2018, the 20 millimetres of rain that fell on his property a month ago brought a small amount of hope, but it was short-lived.

“You’re just starting to see a bit of a future and think about livestock again, but then you have these dust storms that come through,” Mr Wilson said.

“Within two or three hours you lose not only everything that was there, but you lose an inch of top soil again.”

Mr Wilson lost a number of large trees and the verandah of his shed in a dust storm that hit the station at the end of November.

Mr Wilson said continuous dust storms have made him question whether the work he does to protect the soil on his property has been worthwhile.

“We’re all about trying to preserve the landscape with soil conservation, and then you see days like that come through and you wonder how far your efforts go,” he said.

Why are they happening more frequently?

Senior forecaster from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), Grace Legge, said a combination of factors, including the drought and weather patterns, have been to blame for the increased frequency of dust storms.

“We are in a very severe drought so that means that because we are not seeing that growth, we are seeing a lot more areas with dust,” she said.

source : abc

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