Record-breaking heat tests WA’s Pilbara but Paraburdoo hopes to be crowned hottest town

Battling through temperatures of nearly 50 degrees Celsius has almost become a point of pride for some locals in one of Western Australia’s hottest towns.

The Pilbara’s Paraburdoo, 1,500 kilometres north of Perth, was forecast to reach 48C on Monday and 47C on Tuesday.

It has followed a weekend of scorching temperatures, with the mercury hitting 47.9C on Saturday and 48C on Sunday, beating its previous record of 47.8C set in 1998.

But while residents describe conditions as “absolutely horrible”, they are also leaning in to friendly competition with other towns suffering through the heat.

Chores don’t stop

Reuben Taniora has called the remote mining town home for nearly two decades and said locals had to take the scorching heat into account in their everyday lives.

“It’s just trying to manage your time outside. You’ve still got your chores. You’ve still got to mow the lawns,” Mr Taniora said.

“You’ve just got to pick your times.”

An aerial view of a town with red earth.

Temperature records in Paraburdoo have been kept since 1972.(Supplied: Shire of Ashburton)

He said despite living with the heat for a long time, the extremes could still take a toll.

“Yesterday was absolutely horrible,” he said.

“The biggest thing here is it’s a dry heat — the concrete’s hot, the roofs are hot, the buildings are hot, and everything struggles within town just to keep us cool.

“We’re lucky that we’ve got aircon up here.”

A man in a bright green t-shirt wears hard hat, sunglasses, has a radio clipped to his shirt, tattoo can be seen on chest.

Reuben Taniora is no stranger to the heat but says this heatwave has been particularly difficult.(Supplied)

Even as Paraburdoo reaches record heat of 48C, having worked in the mines, Mr Taniora said those could be even hotter.

“I reckon you’d see around 55 in the open pit,” he said.

Many locals are also having fun with the heat.

Paraburdoo resident and Ashburton councillor Alana Sullivan said the town was looking to be crowned the hottest place in the Pilbara — a title it would wear with some pride.

“To break the record two days in a row, everyone is a bit proud,” she said.

“We want to beat Onslow. We know we get that hot in Paraburdoo and are just hoping we can take out the title.”

Relief on the way

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Jessica Lingard said while Paraburdoo was accustomed to extreme temperatures, this summer had produced especially tough conditions. 

“We’ve seen a later start to the wet season and that’s thanks to the positive Indian Ocean dipole and the El Niño working together to create a later than normal start to the monsoon,” Ms Lingard said.

“It has been very dry in the Pilbara region, which doesn’t help the heat.”

Onslow recorded WA’s hottest temperature on Sunday, reaching 48.7C, but Ms Lingard said it was likely more remote parts of the region surpassed 50C.

View of Onslow's main street with pink flowers in the foreground and sign saying "Onslow fishing and fuel".

Many Paraburdoo residents want to beat Onslow’s record.(ABC Pilbara: Alice Angeloni)

“If you drove south from Onslow, west from Paraburdoo, it was going to be somewhere in that no-man’s land that we saw those 50-degree temperatures,” she said.

A tropical low from the Kimberley is expected to move into the Pilbara and bring cooler conditions later in the week. 

Ms Lingard said rain was forecast in excess of 150 millimetres in the Southern and Eastern Kimberley but would lessen as it moved into the Pilbara, with 40mm to 60mm of rain expected around Marble Bar and Newman on Wednesday.

A woman with brown hair smiles at the camera.

Jessica Lingard says Paraburdoo often faces denser air and drier conditions then other parts of the state.(
ABC News: Kenith Png

Paraburdoo could see rain as early as Wednesday, then have more showers through Thursday and Friday before easing on the weekend.

But with a forecast high on Monday of 48C, Ms Lingard did not discount a third record-breaking day before the cool weather arrived.

Workers battle the heat

With the local economy based around the mining industry, many locals have had to continue working during the extreme temperatures. 

Paraburdoo store owner Francis Khong has lived in town for 24 years and said he had sold a lot of cold products over the past few days. 

“We’ve sold a lot more drinks, iced coffees, we’ve got a soft serve machine, and we’ve sold a lot of ice creams and slushies,” he said. 

“You can see it’s hot. There’s a lot of red faces. The sweat running down their foreheads.”

Paraburdoo IGA worker Elisha Lackey said she was thankful to work indoors during the heatwave, but many people in town had been doing it tough. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of people’s air-conditioning in town has gone down in their houses,” Ms Lackey said. 

“Ours personally went down last night, so we’ve had to get someone out today to fix it and I know three other people whose [air conditioner] went down.” 

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