Next stop, the land of the long brown cloud

Next stop, the land of the long brown cloud

The massive dust cloud that turned Sydney red this week was blowing towards New Zealand last night.

The massive dust cloud that turned Sydney red this week was blowing towards New Zealand last night. A picture shot by NASA's Terra Earth-observation satellite yesterday morning, and processed by the Bureau of Meteorology, above, showed the brown cloud riding on a swirling low pressure system off New Zealand's west coast.

If the dust does fall over New Zealand, Monash University scientists hope to collect samples for analysis.

After leaving Sydney, the dust swept over Lord Howe Island late on Wednesday afternoon, reducing visibility to just 800 metres.

Dave Glackin, a Bureau of Meteorology observer on the island, about 760 kilometres from Sydney, said a thunderstorm that arrived with the approach of the dust prevented it from putting on the colourful display Sydney had witnessed. But he said "it was quite eerie" to watch the haze roll in.

"We were waking up this morning to find cars on the island were covered in a thin film of red dust," Mr Glackin said.

The dust cloud was also expected to roll over Norfolk Island, about 1600 kilometres from Sydney.

However, late yesterday Adam Jaucziu, a bureau meteorologist, said he had yet to spot it.

"We were told to expect it ... we have been looking for it," said Mr Jaucziu, but the dust may have been obscured by rain falling over the island.

Chris Noble, a meteorologist with New Zealand's meteorology service, said he too had been using satellite images to track the dust cloud.

"We have been watching it come across the Tasman and it looks a lot thinner than it was there [in Sydney].

"The front itself is still to the west of the North Island." Mr Noble said both islands were shrouded in rain clouds which could obscure the dust's arrival.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we have some light dust overnight," he said. "It's hard to say if we will see anything ... maybe tomorrow morning the sunrise may have a redder tinge."

Mr Noble said it was not common to see this much dust coming across the Tasman from Australia, but dust had been seen in New Zealand from previous storms.

Tadhg O'Loingsigh, from Monash University's school of geography and environmental science, said red dust was relatively easy to scoop up if it fell on white snow fields, but it could be harder to sample if it fell over dry land.

Dr O'Loingsigh said that his team hoped to "fingerprint" the dust by analysing its minerals, and even the bacteria that it carries.

"If we can fingerprint it, we can trace where it came from," he said. Sydney Morning Herald

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