Residents in outback towns of Nyngan, Parkes and Dubbo were left frustrated and in darkness “for hours” as forecasts for rain failed materialise.
Dramatic images and footage of walls of dust blanketing large swathes of land were posted on social media, alongside photos of golf ball-sized hailstones which hit parts of southeastern Australia.
According to Weatherzone, dust storms are an enduring symptom of drought-stricken areas and similar to those that occur in the Middle East.
Large parts of NSW and southern Queensland have been experiencing one of the most severe and longest-running droughts in recent history, which started in early 2017.
Conditions were made worse by soil erosion, land degradation and the driest 36-month period on record in Australia. NSW was hit by the worst of the bushfires since fire season began due to large areas of extremely dry vegetation.
A forecaster with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said winds in Dubbo went up to 107 kilometres (66.5 miles) per hour, picking up dust in very dry areas and reducing visibility within minutes.
“With a strong wind it raises the dust and it is elevated high up into the atmosphere,” said Abrar Shebren.
Satellite images from NASA showed an “enormous” dust cloud forming and sweeping across the country on 11 January.
Professor Patrick De Deckker from the Australian National University said although dust storms are relatively common in Australia, this storm was on a much larger scale not seen since the “Red Dawn” storm that struckj in 2009.
Elsewhere, the BOM have issued a severe storm warning for Sydney after two tourists were struck by lightning and giant hailstones pelted Canberra.
“Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging, locally destructive winds, large, possibly giant hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in the warning area over the next several hours,” said the bureau.
Despite heavy rain bringing respite from soaring temperatures and raging fires in parts of the country, authorities have warned the bushfire crisis is “far from over”.
As of Monday, 90 fires were still burning across New South Wales and there were 28 emergency warnings in Victoria.
Premier Daniel Andrews of the state of Victoria told reporters on Monday the rains have helped fire-ravaged communities but also hindered other fire-fighting efforts, triggering landslides and flash floods.
He said: “Ultimately, we need to remain vigilant. It’s 20 January – the fire season is far from over.”
The NSW Rural Fire Service warned on Sunday that “hot and windy conditions are expected to return to many parts of NSW this week”.
The Australian government boosted emergency grants and loans for small businesses on Monday as part of the recovery effort.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters: “The customers come back and the businesses rebuild and the local towns and communities rebuild with their support.
“My priority is to get the support into the communities where it’s needed.”
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