Australia faces heatwave, thunderstorms during New Year's holiday
By Renju Jose
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is bracing for an intense heatwave across its north and west during the New Year's holiday weekend with temperatures forecast to touch more than 45 degrees Celsius (113°F), while severe thunderstorms were expected to hit the country's east.
The heatwave follows a wild weather system that battered the country's east over the Christmas holidays killing 10 people and knocking down power for tens of thousands, and after Cyclone Jasper earlier this month caused widespread flooding and damage.
Australia's December-February summer is under the influence of the El Nino phenomenon, which usually brings above-average daytime temperatures, and can cause weather extremes ranging from wildfires to tropical cyclones and prolonged droughts.
Extreme heatwave conditions are forecast for large swathes of the state of Western Australia, with temperatures in Marble Bar, a remote old mining town in the northwest, expected to hit 49°C (120.2°F) on Saturday, the Bureau of Meteorology said in its latest update.
Queensland outback towns of Longreach and Julia Creek in the northeast are set to hit 47°C this weekend, while nighttime temperatures in many parts of the Northern Territory could remain in the low 30s for several days.
The intense heatwave has also prompted authorities to raise bushfire risks with several regions under total fire bans.
But in the east, thunderstorms are expected to redevelop from Friday across eastern Queensland and northeast New South Wales, continuing into the new year.
"Severe thunderstorms are possible ... although activity will not be as widespread compared to previous days. Isolated gusty thunderstorms are also possible over western South Australia," said Sarah Scully, forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology.
Some storms in the east could become severe on Friday afternoon, with the potential for large hail, wind gusts of more than 90 kmh (56 mph) and heavy rain.
The storms were expected to ease by New Year's Eve and not impact Sydney's iconic fireworks display as the Bureau of Meteorology predicted cloudy conditions on Sunday with a very slight chance of rain.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry)