Major Dust Storm Sweeps Across Australia


Following weeks of smoke, it was dust turning skies odd colors.

For months, wildfires raging in Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales have darkened skies in eastern Australia. In mid-January 2020, the skies turned a distinctive shade of orange for a different reason, as an enormous dust storm swept across the continent.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured a natural-color image (top) showing a front of thick dust stretching thousands of kilometers across Australia on January 11, 2020. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a higher-resolution image of the dust front in Queensland near Eromanga (below) about an hour earlier.

Strong winds associated with a passing low-pressure trough and storm system triggered the dust storm. Months of unusually dry weather have parched the soils, making it easier for winds to lift clay-sized (less than 4 micrometers), silt-sized (4 to 62.5 micrometers), and sand-sized (62.5 micrometers to 2 millimeters) dust particles high into the air.

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Image via NASA Earth Observatory