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Are dust storms in Australia really that unusual? Is this another sign of climate change?

Question submitted by Mi-Young
(Williams Lake, BC)

Good question Mi-Young! Simply put the answer to both questions is "no"!

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has a great discussion on the web on this subject at http://www.bom.gov.au/lam/climate/levelthree/c20thc/storm8.htm

Dust-storms are for the most part restricted to the drier inland areas of Australia, but occasionally, during widespread drought, they can affect coastal districts. The figure below shows the average distribution of dust-storms over Australia. One of the most spectacular examples was the storm that swept across Melbourne in February 1983, late in the severe El Niño drought of 1982/83. The extended dry period of the 1930s and 1940s generated many severe dust-storms, culminating in the summer of 1944/45 when on several occasions dust in Adelaide was so thick that street lighting had to be turned on. But uncomfortable as dust-storms may be for town and city dwellers, by far their worst effect is the stripping of topsoil from Australia's arable land.

Remember also that any one single event, as far as the daily weather is concerned, is never an indicator of "global climate change". Climate change will occur on a far greater scale. However a series of single events, that appear to become "the new normal" is most definitely an indicator that our weather patterns, and hence climate, is changing.

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