Extreme heat: near-50 degree forecast for Western Australia

Red hot: Parts of Western Australia are heading for days in the high-40s.

Red hot: Parts of Western Australia are heading for days in the high-40s.

An intense heat trough over Australia's north-west may bring the country's first observation of 50-degree temperatures in 17 years, forecasters say.

An area inland of Shark Bay in the Gascoyne region is showing up on Bureau of Meteorology charts as reaching the high-40s on Monday, according to Shane Hicks, a bureau meteorologist in Perth.

"It looks like we might get some 49s but with the observational network pretty sparse out there, it's probably unlikely that we'll actually observe a 50," Mr Hicks said

Current modelling suggests the heat will linger in the region, extending the area of potential 50-degree condition to the Pilbara by Friday.

"The longer the air sits over the land, the more it heats up," Hicks said. "It just sits there and just bakes ... Those poor buggers living out there tend to swelter for quite a few days in a row."

Margaret Rowe, a manager with the Upper Gascoyne Shire Council based some 160 km inland from Carnarvon, said the locals have ways to cope with furnace-like scorchers.

People "sit in air-conditioning", Ms Rowe said. "There's not much else you can do. It's just too hot to go outside." 

Australia has recorded just three days of 50-degree heat since instruments were standardised nationally with the bureau's formation in 1910. The most recent was on February 20, 1998, when the mercury hit 50.5 degrees in the Pilbara town of Mardie.

The bureau sparked international interest two years ago when it updated its weather charts to add temperature coding for both 50-52 degrees and 52-54 degrees.

Heat records are expected to continue to tumble as global warming pushes up background conditions, climate experts say.

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2014 was the hottest year in records going back to 1880, United States agencies said over the weekend. Last year was Australia's third-hottest on record, with warmer-than-usual days outnumbering cooler ones by about three to one, the bureau said.

While the heat is gathering in parts of Western Australia, much of south-eastern Australia is enjoying some relief from summer warmth.

Adelaide's top temperatures will be mostly be below 30 degrees this week, while tennis players still in contention at the Australian Open by Friday can expect three days with maximums of just 22 degrees on current bureau forecasts. Sydney's tops will mostly be in the mid- to high-20s.

Australia's temperature record is held by the small South Australian town of Oodnadatta, which registered 50.7 degrees on January 2, 1960.

The aptly named Death Valley in the Mojave desert in the US holds the title for the world's hottest place, with 56.7 degrees recorded in July 1913. 

 - SMH


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