Wind gusts from thunderstorms in Western Australia whip up dust storms that turn day into night

Videos posted to social media show massive dust clouds rolling towards the borders of towns in New South Wales, blanketing the sky in a darkening reddish haze

A child runs towards a dust storm in Mullengudgery in New South Wales on Jan. 17. Courtesy of Marcia Macmillan/AFP via Getty Images

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The severe thunderstorms in New South Wales have added yet another problem to the bushfire-weary Australian state’s list — dust storms so huge that they’ve turned daytime into night in certain towns.

Dramatic videos posted to social media show massive dust clouds blanketing the sky, rolling towards the borders of towns in central New South Wales, whipped up by “extremely strong wind gusts” associated with the thunderstorms and heavy rainfall over the past week.

“Scary moment when the storm overtakes and everything goes black,” Lucy Thackray captioned her post on Twitter, which shows a car driving towards a massive dust cloud before it stops on the side to wait the storm out. As the cloud passes through, everything goes immediately black, as if it were the middle of the night. “Remember: not everyone’s celebrating rain,” she wrote. 

The severe weather follows after the Bureau of Meteorology issued a series of severe thunderstorm warnings on Sunday with wind gust up to 116 km/h. The bureau however cancelled the warning on Monday, adding that “the situation will continue to be monitored and further warnings will be issued if necessary.”

Residents in outback towns of Nyngan, Parkes and Dubbo left in the darkness for hours after the dust storm, voiced frustrations with the bureau’s failure to accurately predict rainfall. “Next time they forecast a storm, I’ll know just to assume dust storm. 3mm of rain since Wednesday and two of these since Friday,” said one resident, according to the Independent.

However, many towns on the NSW mid-north coast and northern rivers region have received up to 180 mm of rainfall on the weekend. Residents in Victoria received up to 56.6 mm of rainfall, resulting in more than 1,400 calls to the State Emergency Service, most for building damage.

Major Australian cities such as Melbourne and Canberra were also hit with severe hail storms on Monday and Sunday. Residents have described the hail stones to reach the size of golf balls, damaging buildings, cars, businesses and power lines. According to Canberra officials, two people were left injured by the storm.

The heavy rainfall has helped mitigate the situation in Australia’s scorched states — New South Wales and Victoria — but it won’t be enough to put out the remaining blazes, according to officials.

This handout photo taken on January 17, 2020 and received on January 20 courtesy of Marcia Macmillan shows a dust storm in Mullengudgery in New South Wales. – Dust storms hit many parts of Australia’s western New South Wales as a prolonged drought continues Courtesy of Marcia Macmillan / AFP

Currently, there are still 14 bushfires in Victoria. According to the Guardian, an emergency warning was issued on Sunday evening for a bushfire in central Victoria, but it was downgraded to a “watch and act” early on Monday.

Bureau meteorologist Rose Barr told the Guardian that the shifting winds will bring drier and warmer air mid-week, which could increase the risk of fire. However, wetter conditions will return on the weekend.