22 September 2009

The Desert Comes to Visit

Craig's Morning:

I woke up this morning to an odd orange glow outside the window; a glance outside revealed a hazy, foggy morning unlike any I'd seen in Sydney so far.

But after the monster downpour that left Nija and me soaked to the bone last night, I figured anything was possible this morning; maybe it was a thick fog that turned the sunrise into an eerie, ruddy glow.

By 7:30, though, I noticed that while the world was a little brighter, it was still as orange as can be. Something strange was afoot. It crossed my mind that this could be ash from bushfires, but I didn't smell anything burning and it was doubtful that some new bushfire had cropped up after that pounding we got last night.

When I got out to my bike, it was coated with a thin layer of orange dust, like the pollen I'm accustomed to in Atlanta springtime. But this was no pollen. A quick glance at the news on my phone proved what I had started to suspect: last night's storm blew a huge cloud of dust from the deserts of western NSW and South Australia into the city.

The Sydney Morning Herald has some amazing photos and is reporting that the dust and winds have shut down the M5 East tunnel and ferry traffic across the harbour, and flights at the airport have been delayed. Some callers to ABC radio reported finding dead baby birds in their backyards and even cats having gone missing. The dust has now pushed Sydney to one of Twitter's top 10 topics (whatever that means) and the radio stations, TV networks, newspapers and so on have all been beset by a barrage of calls and emails. The Bureau of Meteorology is calling this the worst dust storm ever to hit the city and the Air Quality Index has been raised to red (Hazardous).

What's clear is that people can't help but feel a little twinge of apocalyptic anxiety, even if they know exactly what's going on. When untrained observers can't tell if the thing they're looking at is the sun or the moon, it's unsettling.

On my trip in to school I saw a woman standing on her front stoop, looking at the sky and singing to it. Most people weren't that unhinged, but there's something about that look that people get in a big city when an all-pervasive, surprising event like this occurs: it's almost as though people are debating whether to take it as a sign of something bigger, even though everyone just wants to act as though they wake up every day with everything covered in red dust.

As a newcomer to this strange and ancient place, the colour of the world this morning had me thinking of the massive expanse of redness that lies just to the west, which I have yet to see for myself but that always lurks around the corner of urban Australia's subconscious. Perhaps the desert might eventually swallow this place. For now, though, it's just come for a visit.

Nija's morning:

When Craig got up to leave this morning, the room was pinker than usual, but I was too tired to ask why. He calls a few minutes later, and tells me to look outside; I go to our balcony. The Redfern Towers are obscured by an (un)earthly red haze. I've never lived through a dust storm before. I thought I'd never lived in a city where dust storms are possible.

Sleepy, still wearing my glasses, I go out to the park behind our house. A thin film of red dust covered the cars, even the trees were overlaid with an ominous orange smog.

The colour is that of Australian landscape photography, of the red rocks that hold the spirit of the world for a native and ancient people. It's a magical colour. A green and blue city that (occasionally) turns red and orange, and just for a while, smells of clean dirt rather than mold and exhaust. This morning was a beautiful respite from ordinary Sydney. This morning, we lived in a magical place.

While we were having a record-breaking dust storm here, Atlanta has been harrowed by rain for over a week. Historical records were broken back home, too, as 12 inches of rain stormed down in one day. The city is flooding. Jeremy was the first to tell us about it; looking at pictures, I'm horrified.

Pictures from the AJC

More Pictures of Atlanta under water

And more and more and more

From these pictures, Atlanta looks like New Orleans, post-Katrina, in the terrifying, sobbing, breath-held weeks before the water finally withdrew, revealing the havoc it had left behind. Craig and I went to New Orleans to help clean up a few months after the storm, and the devastation was still awful. I don't know how Atlanta will manage this, with recession making everything harder anyway. I can't believe mere rain could cause flooding like this, I can't believe Atlanta can rain like this. Lynn, Craig's NOLAgirl mom, told me she'd expected this from New Orleans, with the hurricanes and storms. I told my dad about our dust storm here, and he said, "Nijaben, the weather's changing."

This morning sort of feels like a bewildering reversal: the desert came to rainy Sydney, and the ocean came to dry Atlanta. The weather is changing. All the way from Atlanta to Sydney, the signs are everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. http://blog.flickr.net/en/2009/09/22/red-dust-over-sydney/