DISCUSSION: Soil moisture helps soil grains stick together. This moisture is obviously good for plant life, whose roots also help hold the soil in place. However, during extended dry periods (i.e., drought), vegetation deteriorates and soil is stuck together less, making it a lot easier for the wind to pick up the top layer of soil and generate dust storms. Currently, Australia is experiencing an especially intense, prolonged drought, especially in the state of New South Whales (the most populous state in Australia). This drought has led to crop failures and issues with water availability. The satellite image above shows an example of another impact of the drought, massive dust storms. Low pressure systems and their attendant fronts can be associated with high winds. Sometimes these systems can bring beneficial rains, but during droughts there is less moisture which can result in little or no precipitation. This combination of high winds without any attendant rain during drought conditions allows the winds to pick up copious amounts of dust. The north-south running cloud band in the image above is likely evidence of a front, and the dust around that cloud band is the result of the strong winds ahead of that front. Dust storms can have a number of dangerous impacts including hazards to aircraft, clogging the air filters of cars, and reduced visibility. In addition, the dust can cause breathing problems, especially for those with asthma, emphysema, and other pre-existing breathing issues. The best way to mitigate these impacts of dust outbreaks is to minimize travel and going outdoors as much as possible until the dust clears.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Dr. Ken Leppert II