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Queensland heatwave to worsen before getting better

Ben Domensino, Thursday November 29, 2018 - 15:37 EDT

A heatwave that has been gripping parts of Queensland since the weekend will become more intense and widespread during the coming days, before relief arrives next week.

A hot and dry air mass lingering over parts of northern and central Queensland caused numerous maximum temperature records to be broken during the last few days.

Cairns Airport registered its highest temperature on record when the mercury hit 42.6 degrees on Monday. Another weather station at Cairns Racecourse hit 43.6C on both Monday and Tuesday, which is higher than any temperature previously recorded at the Cairns Airport and discontinued Cairns Post Office weather stations, which collectively have data stretching back to 1889. Mackay also set a new maximum temperature record on Monday after reaching a top of 39.7 degrees.

This week's heat, combined with dry and gusty westerly winds, led to a number of life-threatening bushfires in the state's east. On Wednesday, some places endured their worst fire weather in at least 17 years, including Rockhampton and Emerald, which  experienced catastrophic fire danger ratings.

At one point on Wednesday afternoon, Rockhampton recorded a temperature of 43 degrees, wind gusts of 85km/h and relative humidity of just 10 percent. This mix of hot, dry and windy weather produced the chart-topping catastrophic fire danger rating and fuelled nearby fires, forced thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes.

Fortunately, winds were lighter across central Queensland on Thursday and sea breezes were keeping temperatures a bit lower than the previous day along the coast. For example, Rockhampton's forecast top of 38 degrees on Thursday is cooler than Wednesday's 44.4 degrees. However, the heatwave isn't over just yet and for some parts of the state, it's about to get worse.

A high pressure system moving over the Coral Sea will allow heat to spread back into Queensland from the north and west between now and early next week.

Severe to locally extreme heatwave conditions are forecast across much of northern and central Queensland from Saturday until at least Monday and could persist in the state's west for longer. This heat is likely to fuel bushfires and could be dangerous for the health and wellbeing of some people and animals.

Forecast models suggest that cooler air will start to push across eastern Queensland from Tuesday next week and gradually spread west, slowly eroding the heat during the middle of next week. This moisture-laden air may also produce showers and thunderstorms as it spreads over the state.

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