THE DUST storm that enveloped the North Coast yesterday at one point stretched to Mount Isa and caused humidity at Ballina to plummet to an almost unheard of minus 2 per cent.
Every drop of water was sucked from the air by the dry continental air mass, prompting the Rural Fire Service to declare a total fire ban.
Like a giant snowball it grew as it travelled, blowing close to 16,000 tonnes of dust across the coast every hour.
The dust was expected to be cleared this morning in time for this afternoon's Lismore Cup.
Flights at Lismore airport were cancelled for most of the day, as visibility fell to 700 metres. Ballina airport stayed open, but flights were delayed.
A North Coast rugby union carnival, involving more than 300 school children was called off after an hour of play, on advice from the NSW Health Department.
Xavier College student Dietmar Sobczak, aged 13, said he was relieved to be off the field as breathing was becoming increasingly difficult.
Lismore cafes said trade was down as residents opted to stay indoors.
Murray (who declined to give his surname), a tourist from Queensland, was seen walking the streets of Lismore wearing an industrial respirator mask.
“I usually only wear this for painting,” he said. “I was just lucky it was in the car.”
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Ewan Mitchell said strong winds caused by a cold front began picking up dust in north-east South Australia on Tuesday. Overnight the front, generating winds of 100km/h, collected more dust in drought-affected western NSW.
“The storm moved west to east, meaning you didn't get the same dust as Sydney,” he said.
“The Sydney dust moved out into the Tasman Sea. Your dust originated further north, although it was the same system,” he said.
The storm hit the North Coast around 9am, four-and-a-half hours after it struck Sydney.
Mr Mitchell said he had no idea of the volume of inland dust blown across the continent, but he was philosophical.
"I think they still have plenty of dirt,” he said.
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View photos of the dust storm over Brisbane on brisbanetimes.com.au