Australian Dust Storm Photos Suggest Fearsome 'Red Wave' Off Continent's Western Coast (UPDATE)

An intense dust storm in Western Australia led to the creation of a "red wave" off the coast of Onslow Wednesday evening.

Officials with the country's Bureau of Meteorology told the Newcastle Herald the "red wave" spectacle was caused by a combination of wind and rain that kicked up rust-colored sand and dust into the air and forced the cloud of debris out to sea.


Photos of the fearsome storm, provided to The Huffington Post by Perth Weather Live, are so stunning some question has been raised whether or not they're even real.*

“We were steaming along in the boat just before sunset and the storm was casually building in the distance, then it got faster and faster and it went from glass to about 40 knots in two minutes,” said Brett Martin, one of the photographers on the boat, to The West Australian. "It was like a big dust storm under a thunderhead, there was a lot of lightning but not a lot of rain.”

The pictures depict a weather phenomenon similar to the haboob -- a massive cloud of dust kicked up by strong winds -- that struck Phoenix in the summer of 2011.

According to The Herald, the sun-obscuring dust was propelled by wind gusts of more than 60 mph. Despite damage the storm caused on land, however, research suggests the sediment it carried may be beneficial to sea life.

A similar storm near Sydney in 2009 triggered a bloom in phytoplankton, tiny organisms that serve as the basis for much of the ocean's food chains. ABC Science reports that in addition to the ecological health boost, researchers estimate the 2 million tons of phytoplankton triggered by the storm captured 8 million tons of CO2 from the earth's atmosphere.

This latest storm follows a barrage of natural disasters that have hit Australia recently: A scorching heat wave has prompted the addition of new colors to weather maps previously unable to display temperatures that hot; wildfires have destroyed nearly 100 homes in the southeast of the country; and a Category 3 cyclone is expected to make landfall sometime Friday.

UPDATE: January 15, 1:17 p.m. -- Jane Hathaway, a spokeswoman for Australia's shire of Ashburton has confirmed for The Huffington Post that the storm did in fact happen and the photos are genuine.

PHOTOS of the "Red Wave" dust storm off Australia's western coast [via Perth Weather Live]:

*This story was initially altered to reflect skepticism about the validity of the photos. A government spokeswoman has since confirmed their accuracy.

Red Wave' Dust Storm Hits Western Australia