Australian Weather Calendar
September: A costly close-up of dust
Full-time photographer Peter Macdonald, who has specialised in the South Australian Outback for more than 20 years, was almost mesmerised as he recorded a dust storm coming towards him over the northern Flinders Ranges in February 2008.
Peter had missed a dust storm the day before. So with similar conditions forecast the next day while working on the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary he was on the lookout for another storm. 'I got the real deal—a storm with about a 50km front', he recalls. 'I watched for an hour; it was exciting stuff as it rolled towards me. It was uncannily still. It became too big to photograph—my last shot was less than 4 km away. Unfortunately I left it too late to run. A howling mass of sand hit me, I could barely see, and had difficulty finding the car. When I did I stupidly opened the door and it was amazing how much sand got in. It was around 45 minutes before the storm turned into something like a sandy fog with visibility increased to 100 metres. The pictures cost me— the camera had to be sent away for maintenance.'
Peter lives at Parachilna in the heart of the Flinders Ranges, and apart from his landscape work, does commissions and workshops.
Dust storms form when gust fronts or other strong winds pick up dirt from a dry surface. In Australia, they are usually restricted to drier inland areas where around ten dust storms per year occur. Severe dust storms can affect large parts of the country in years of widespread drought, as occurred in September 2009. This storm at Arkaroola came after a very dry January when less than five millimetres of rain fell.