'Apocalyptic' red dust storm heading for NZ

A dust storm that turned Sydney red and sent pollution levels soaring to a record high is heading for New Zealand.

Winds of up to 90kmh whisked up dust and dirt, bringing a thick orange tinge to the skies over New South Wales yesterday.

Covering half of the Australian state, the storm pushed air pollution levels to 1500 times their normal levels the highest on record.

Sydney Opera House shrouded in dust, which may be heading for New Zealand
Reuters
Sydney Opera House shrouded in dust, which may be heading for New Zealand

It caused commuter chaos, the cancellation of flights from Sydney airport, the suspension of city ferries and the cancellation of horse racing.

Four Air New Zealand flights to Sydney from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch were cancelled yesterday morning.

Pregnant women, the elderly, asthmatics and anyone with breathing difficulties were urged to keep their windows shut and stay indoors. At least 250 people called emergency services with breathing problems.

MetService spokesman Peter Kreft said the storm would be blown towards New Zealand, hitting our shores from today.

"A lot of the dust will be blown across the Tasman Sea and most will end up in the sea.

"There could be traces of dust in rainfall but I would be surprised if it will be noticeable."

Today's sunset may have "a bit more of a red tinge to it".

Worried Sydney residents flooded talkback radio, while others hit social networking sites to express their amazement at the conditions.

"It's just red, red, red as far as you can see," one person said. "It just feels dirty and rusty. It was totally bizarre to wake up to."

Another said: "The colour was amazing. From deep to vibrant red, decidedly apocalyptic."

With the storm making its way toward New Zealand, MetService has issued a severe weather warning, advising central North Island farmers to move stock in anticipation of heavy rain and winds.

Between 50 and 80 millimetres of rain 15mm an hour is forecast over the central North Island from Bay of Plenty and southern Waikato to Wairarapa between 8am and midnight tonight.

The MetService is advising people to watch out for rapidly rising streams and rivers, and surface flooding. Wellingtonians should also wrap up warmly as an unseasonally cold southerly front is expected to dump 20-50cm of snow down to 400 metres on the Tararua Range today. Temperatures are expected to drop to 9 degrees celsius in Wellington.

MetService spokesman Peter Kreft said the weather warning had been issued for Taranaki, Taumarunui, Taupo and Tongariro National Park..

"These areas will be first in the firing line. There's quite a bit going on in the next 24 hours.

"It is unusual to get this amount of snow on the Tararua Ranges in September.

"For farmers, a combination of cold winds and rain will cause stress to livestock."

The weekend outlook for Wellington is also a mixed bag, with unsettled weather forecast for Saturday and clear skies and northerlies on Sunday.

The Dominion Post