The Australian Open has again fallen foul of Melbourne’s filthy weather.
Play on outside courts at Melbourne Park was delayed for several hours on Thursday due to a bizarre dust storm overnight.
Organisers were forced to push back the start time to 1pm – one-and-a-half hours later than scheduled – after finding the courts covered in brown sediment.
Teams of cleaners rushed to hose down the discoloured courts and seats to ensure spectators did not have their experience tarnished by rust-coloured bottoms.
Dr Tony Weatherley, a senior lecturer in soil science at the University of Melbourne, said the dust storm was “unusual” because it was combined with heavy rain.
“Normally a dust storm would be a dry event, so you might only get a bit of dust on your car but in this case, it was combined with a significant rain event,” Dr Weatherley told The New Daily.
“The red colour indicates that it’s come from the Mallee or Southern Riverine where we have those red soils.”
The dust, which swept into Melbourne from South Australia and New South Wales, was the latest bout of unusual weather affecting play at the Australian Open.
Players have so far endured smoke haze from the Gippsland and NSW bushfires, following violent winds on Wednesday.
The impact of the wild weather has extended far beyond Melbourne Park.
The rain and dust storms in Victoria have presented challenges for emergency services in the state where a dozen bushfires are burning.
But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he’d rather they be dealing with challenges such as land slides than a hot northerly wind which could whip up ongoing blazes.
Mr Andrews said storms from recent days, including rains which have hit bushfire-affected areas, are providing challenges for firefighters, including land slippage and slides.
“It can be very dangerous, but it’s much better than a hot northerly wind,” he told Nine’s Today on Thursday.
The intense dust storm that swept through a huge area of South Australia, NSW and Victoria on Wednesday afternoon reduced visibility and prompted a warning to drivers on outback roads.
South Australian police advised motorists in northern parts of the state of the potential danger on Wednesday afternoon, particularly along the Barrier Highway between Peterborough and Yunta, about 300 kilometres north of Adelaide.
“The dust extends into NSW and [Victoria] and covers an estimated area of over 275,000 square kilometres,” South Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said in a tweet.
An extensive area of dust (shown in pink here) has been picked up by the strong and gusty winds ahead of a cold front moving across SA. The dust extends into NSW and VIC and covers an estimated area of over 275,000 square kilometres. Conditions easing overnight. pic.twitter.com/NGZj0faZrA
— Bureau of Meteorology, South Australia (@BOM_SA) January 22, 2020
A severe weather warning from the Bureau of Meteorology is in place for strong winds in eastern elevated areas on Thursday, with further gusts to develop in parts of the state’s south.
But the rainfall will give way to clear skies on Friday and temperatures expected to stay in the low 20s until Monday.
Victoria’s bushfires have so far burnt more than 1.5 million hectares, mainly in the state’s East Gippsland and north-east regions.
Ahead of planned travels during the long weekend, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp urged Victorians to remain vigilant.
Dry lightning sparked 44 new fires in the state on Wednesday amid hot and windy weather, but most were quickly dealt with by firefighters.
There were still 12 fires burning in Victoria on Thursday, the worst of which are in East Gippsland and the northeast.
Most are burning at the advice level, but one out-of-control blaze at Buldah in East Gippsland is subject to a ‘watch and act’ alert, with aircraft set to battle the flames as soon as conditions permit.
“A change in weather conditions has made this fire more active,” Emergency Management Victoria warned about 8.30am.
— Stephen Quartermain (@Quartermain10) January 22, 2020
A cool change that swept across the state on Wednesday brought widespread rain averaging between 25 millimetres to 30 millimetres across Melbourne overnight.
Conditions were not as wet in bushfire-affected regions, with scarcely any rain east of Bairnsdale, which received less than 5 millimetres.
The State Emergency Service received more than 500 calls for help in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, about 360 of which were for fallen trees. Only nine were for flooding.