A HOT spell the Bureau of Meteorology called "exceptional" for late March was recorded over large parts of northern and central Australia.
Initially confined to the Top End and Gulf Country in the Northern Territory, and adjacent areas of far northwest Queensland, the heat then extended over a much larger area, according to the Bureau's latest special climate statement.
The event peaked on March 19 and 20, when records were set over large parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland, as well as outback South Australia and northern New South Wales. Visit FarmOnline Weather for more updates and information
Location of stations where record high maximum temperatures were set in the period from March 6 to 20, 2015. The colour of each circle indicates the temperature reached and the size of the circle the margin by which the previous record was broken.
"Many records were set during this hot spell," the Bureau said in its statement. "The Northern Territory and Queensland had their hottest March days on record in area-averaged terms, whilst the event also included the highest temperature ever observed in Australia in the second half of March."
According to the Bureau, the second half of March is usually associated with a decline in the potential for extreme heat.
"It is in the later part of what is normally the wet season, and temperatures are typically moderated by cloud cover, damp soils and green vegetation.
"Severe thunderstorms also occurred in association with this trough on March 21 in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales."
The hot spell resulted in the continuation of rainfall shortages over large parts of western Queensland.
"This was due in part to a delayed wet season, adding to the two previously poor successive wet seasons in inland Queensland," the Bureau said.
"The heat is also likely to have exacerbated the impact of the drought, through increased evaporation and further reducing the limited pasture growth which has occurred during the 2014–15 wet season."
According to the Bureau, most of the drought-affected areas had rainfall well below average for February, and have had little or no rain so far in March.
Rain associated with Tropical Cyclones Marcia and Nathan passed to the east and north of the region.