Record-breaking heatwave will drag on

Australia is set to finish the week before Christmas facing temperatures well into the 40s.
Australia is set to finish the week before Christmas facing temperatures well into the 40s.

Records continue to tumble as a heatwave travels across the south of Australia, with the worst ahead for the ACT and NSW.

Victoria sweltered through its hottest December day on record on Friday, with two towns falling just short of 48C.

Horsham, in the state's west, and Hopetoun, in the northwest, recorded 47.9C, exceeding the previous December record of 46.6C at Robinvale on New Year's Eve 1976. It was also Horsham's hottest day ever.

Cape Otway, on the Great Ocean Road, also recorded its hottest ever day at 43.4C, smashing a record set more than 150 years ago.

Melbourne's temperature fell short of the forecast 44C, reaching a maximum of 43.4C - the capital's hottest day since 1876.

In South Australia, the town of Keith, about 225 kilometres southeast of Adelaide, registered a record temperature of 49.2C.

It comes after the Nullarbor weather station in South Australia on Thursday broke Australia's December location record at 49.9C. Just hours earlier, Euclain in Western Australia had eclipsed the mark held by Queensland's Birdsville with a forecast of 49.8C.

Birdsville had held the record for the hottest December since 1972.

As the weekend approaches, emergency crews are preparing for what is expected to be another day of scorching hot weather with several states and cities forecast to set new records again.

"The peak day for NSW and the ACT is Saturday," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Andrea Peace said, noting very high temperatures are forecast right throughout the region as well as strong gusty southerly winds.

"It creates a really dangerous period for the fire grounds because it (the wind) rapidly changes the direction of the fires there."

The mercury is expected to reach the mid-40s on Saturday for most of NSW, while Sydney is expecting 36C.

Meanwhile, Canberra is forecast to reach 41C with smoke haze from nearby fires continuing to blanket the city.

The Rural Fire Service and NSW Police have strongly urged people to delay their travel until Sunday or after, with fears motorists could get trapped on roads if fires spread.

Brisbane, Darwin and Perth return to maximums in the mid-30s, while a cool change will have passed through Adelaide and Melbourne, bringing the mercury down to the 20s.

Australian Associated Press