Wild weather brings dust and rain

Parts of the north-west have been hit by dust and severe storms


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STORM CHASER: Photographer and farmer Drew Chislett took this spectacular panoramic shot of the dust storm, as it blew through Durham Ox: PHOTO: Drew Chislett.

STORM CHASER: Photographer and farmer Drew Chislett took this spectacular panoramic shot of the dust storm, as it blew through Durham Ox: PHOTO: Drew Chislett.

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Victoria hit by lightning, dust and useful rainfall.

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A low-pressure trough, moving across Victoria, has brought dust, rain and hail, to much of the north of the state, in the past few days.

Lightning strikes, part of the same system, knocked out power in the south-west, as the storms moved across the state, in a line from Kerang to Colac.

Hail was recorded at Katunga.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Chris Arvier said as the trough moved east, later in the week, it had brought more storm activity to an area around Swan Hill,  Kerang and over Wangaratta.

Mr Arvier said it was difficult to tell the extent of Wednesday’s dust storm, which passed through an area near Boort, Durham Ox and Kerang, due to cloud.

“We usually monitor it using satellites, but the cloud blocked out our view of what was going on,” he said.

Dust storms were not uncommon in summer, particularly after a prolonged period of no, or low, rainfall.

He said there had already been about half a dozen dust storms in Mildura and Swan Hill, this summer.

“This one was generated by some very strong, gusty outflows from storms, which passed through the state, during mid-morning,” Mr Arvier said.

“The atmosphere was primed for storm activity, it was very humid with plenty of moisture.

“There was a low-pressure trough moving through Victoria, at surface level, with an unstable atmosphere above.”

He said wind gusts of up to 60 kilometres an hour were recorded.

Severe thunderstorms also brought isolated heavy rainfall.

“Longerenong was very interesting – they recorded 20millimetres of rain in 20 minutes,” Mr Arvier said.

“There’s about a five per cent chance of that happening, it’s a pretty rare event, a one in 20 year event.”

The highest official total of 51mm was recorded at Meredith, north-west of Geelong.

The dust storm, which hit Kerang, occurred nearly 36 years ago to the day that Melbourne was enveloped in red soil and sand from the Mallee.

In 1983, on February 8, just before 3pm, Melbourne was hit by high winds, carrying loose topsoil, from the Mallee and Wimmera.

Read more: 35 years ago: A freak dust cloud envelops Melbourne

Afternoon storm:

Ashley Gould saw Wednesday's dust storm coming, when he was working near Durham Ox.

“It was coming in from the north-west, out of the Mallee,” Mr Gould said.

“It rolled up through Pyramid Hill, you could see it everywhere you looked.”

“For about 10-15 minutes, it was really windy; you could see the dirt on the side of the ute window.”

Mr Gould said the dust storms that large were rare.

“I wouldn’t have seen one like that for 15-16 years,” he said.

Drew Chislett said the dust storm rolled in around four o’clock.

“It was just spectacular,” he said.

“You couldn’t see 15 metres in front of yourself.”

He said about six to eight mm of rain fell after the dust cloud passed over.

“It’s rare to see such a spectacular dust storm these days, due to the changes in farming practices.

“But when it does come, it just looks like a big angry monster, rolling across the land.”

He said it was late afternoon when the dust storm hit the Boort and Durham Ox area.

“There appeared to be a lot of Mallee dust in it, obviously due to the drought conditions.

‘A fair bit of the land has been struggling; it doesn’t have the ground cover.”

Peter Tuohey, Pyramid Hill, said he believed the dust storm started in the South Australian Mallee and built up, as it moved across Victoria.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it was 50-100kilometres wide, I know it went as far up as Ultima,” he said.

He said it lasted about half an hour and was followed by rainfall of between four and 12 mm.

Welcome rain:

Mallee farmers said the passing front also brought welcome rain to many parts of the north-west.

Alan Malcolm, Hopetoun, runs sheep and grows cereals and pulses, near the town.

He said falls ranged from 10mm to 50mm, across his properties.

“No-one got the same amount of rain, in any two gauges,” Mr Malcolm said.

He said the rain, follow up from a heavy fall late last year, was a mixed blessing.

“It’s given us a considerable sub-soil moisture base, but the bad part is that it will probably bring up a new crop of weeds,” he said.

Mr Malcolm said rain in October last year helped increase yields, after a lack of decent subsoil mosture, over the past two seasons.

The rain followed the dust storm.

“It came up very black, in between the dust and the storm,” he said.

“When you have it like this, 152mm to 177 mm (six and seven inches) in all, it gives you a good base, and you can take a dry spell, without too much concern,” he said.

“You couldn’t call it widespread rain, but if you happened to be under one of the storms, you copped it.

He said the thunderstorm, which followed the dust, was quite severe.

“The lightning was amazing. Where you got the rain, it really opened up,” he said.

“It’s given us a great start. It’s probably a month earlier than what we want, ideally, but you don’t knock it back, in the Mallee.”

Trav Mitchell, Woomelang, said his properties received about 26mm.

“It’s fantastic, and it’s set us up fairly nicely, this year,” Mr Mitchell said.

“I’m out spraying now and, come Anzac Day, we will start planting.”

He said he expected to plant cereals, lentils and vetch hay.

Dean Munro, who farms at Ouyen, said he didn’t see much dust, but received a welcome 12mm of rain.

He said it followed good falls, late last year.

“It’ll be good. It will make some weeds grow, and, hopefully, a bit of crop,” he said.

The season was shaping up to be similar to last year, which ended up quite well.

“I’m quite positive with how this year looks,” Mr Munro said.

“I’ve just finished the last round of spraying, and I’m building an air seeder that’s come out of Canada in a shipping container.”

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