It can be minute, or minotaur. Dust is a facet of everyday life that lends itself to air, allergies and apocalyptic displays.
I remember it coming. I was there. In high school, my educational institution happened to be run by nuns. It was a modern building with glass windows that framed the perfectly blue skies of Melbourne. Just before lunch, the horizon darkened. A billowing skyline of grey rolled in toward the city, seemingly from nowhere. Then it was upon us, a dark mass that engulfed my school and obliterated the landscape. The day had turned to night, the seas boiled and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse rode in on silver steeds. Not really but the nuns thought so. They dropped to their knees in prayer (truly), to stave off the onslaught of Armageddon.
However, what we were really witnessing was one of the most intense meteorological phenomenas the country had ever seen.
The fabled Melbourne dust storm was a dramatic consequence of the 1982/83 drought, and is sited as a foregoer to the Ash Wednesday bushfires, which would take place eight days later.
And so is the strange characteristics of dust, and how it carries on the wind.
Dust storms can range from tiny to titanic. They are caused by a front moving through a dry area, with plenty of particles to unearth through the tempest. So goliath is their possible force, that there is a tale of a Persian army, 50,000 strong, heading toward the desert, only to vanish completely into a dust bowl.
Places such as Southwest America are prone to them. And have experienced centuries of the whirling spectacle. Perhaps the worst was during the 1930s, when a series of seemingly, never-ending storms invaded the area. The tumults were assisted by early-century farming techniques, a time when farmers stripped the ground of deep rooted grass systems, leaving the terrain bare. The storms then were overwhelming enough to have displaced thousands of people from their homes.
Sometimes, there is no such thing as harmless dust.
Dust isnt just a mesmerizing display of nature, but an unseen force too. The average home holds a microscopic world of active particles. Domestic dust can consist of dust mites which live from 10-17 days, human skin and hair, animal fur, decaying spiders and insects, lint fibres, grease, nicotine and food crumbs. The transparent sediments are a primary contributor in triggering asthma and air-borne allergies. In more severe cases, a multitude of dust can be a conduit for carrying a noxious blend of chemicals, bacteria and fungi. Factory work places have been proven to contain metal, fumes, and wood shavings. It has even been recorded that dust carries epidemics on its travels.
And though we are no match for the awe-inspiring expose that Mother Nature creates, we have, in this day and age, managed to counteract some of her effects. Dust would no doubt prove a lot more dangerous to humans without the humble vacuum cleaner, or the invention of inhalers. And the incredible discovery of polystyrene insulation panels ensures we have breathable, clean air when dealing with disturbed sediments, or particles of our own making.
The one thing we cannot control is the Frankenstein process of the dust storm, its behaviour, nor where it will strike. But with newer farming practices, and a hope of avoiding drought through advanced irrigation, perhaps will one day lessen the occurrence.
As a first eye witness to the environmental marvel, if by chance a whirlwind of colour passes your way, I suggest you stay indoors, close the doors and windows, sit back and enjoy the show.