On 8th February 1983, a massive dust storm covered Melbourne at around 3pm in the afternoon. Much of Victoria was affected by it, because of the prolonged drought the state experienced in that year. Eight days later, one of the worst bush fires of the decade, the Ash Wednesday fires devastated the region.
Those caught in the storm described their experience nothing less than sand blasting. The El Nino weather cycle has brought severe drought to the North East of Australia in 1982 – 83, Victoria’s Mallee and northern Wimmera severely affected.
The hot and gutsy northerly wind picked up the loose topsoil in the Mallee and Wimmera region of Victoria and collected into huge cloud of dust in the morning of 8th February. The mercury was rising in Melbourne reaching around 43 degrees.
The dust storm hit Melbourne by 3pm bringing everything to a halt; the temperature had dropped rapidly, and the visibility plunged to 100metres. The worst of the storm was over by 4pm. It was estimated at that time that the wind had stripped around 50,000 tonnes of soil and dumped around 1000 tonnes in Melbourne. Cloud spanned 500 kilometres from Mildura to Melbourne, extended 150 kilometres from east to west and varied between 320 metres and 3700 metres in height. When it reached Melbourne, it was around 320m high but in Mildura it was around 3650m high. The storm removed the nutrient topsoil from the fields of Mallee and Wimmera. In Melbourne city junction boxes were clogged with dust which resulted in short circuit. The Victorian State Soil Conservation Authority estimated that 106kg of dust per hectare were deposited in Melbourne suburbs by the storm, that is around 9.5kg per house block.