While fires burn across southeastern Australia and the northwest braces for Tropical Cyclone Narelle, Australia's volatile weather has produced a spectacular red dust storm.

Striking images have emerged of a massive dust storm, which rolled across northwestern Australia and out to the Indian Ocean just before sunset on Wednesday evening.

Tugboat worker Brett Martin was working west of False Island when the storm passed over.

"We were steaming along in the boat just before sunset and the storm was casually building in the distance, then it got faster and faster and it went from glass to about 40 knots in two minutes," he told the West Australian.


"It was like a big dust storm under a thunderhead, there was a lot of lightning but not a lot of rain."

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Austen Watkins told the West Australian the phenomenon was created as wind and rain caused the thunderstorm to dump sand and dust it had picked while passing over the coastal town of Onslow, in the Pilbara region.

The phenomenon is known as a "haboob" by meteorologists.

Mr Watkins told the West Australian gusts of up to 102km/h were recorded from the thunderstorm about 7.30pm local time (2.30pm NZT) on Wednesday.

He said the storm was unrelated to Tropical Cyclone Narelle, which is bearing down on the northwestern coast.

Steve Brooks, from Perth Weather Live said the bright red colour in the storm is unrelated to the massive bush fires across Australia this week. Instead, the red dust and iron ore which covers the Pilbara region are believed to have caused the vivid colour.

Mr Brooks said haboobs are not common but do happen around northern parts of Western Australia. However, it is not common for there to be so many images capturing the phenomenon.

Several stunning photos of the haboob have been posted on the Perth Weather Live Facebook page.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Meteorology has a cyclone warning in place for coastal areas from Whim Creek to Coral Bay, including Karratha, Dampier, Onslow and Exmouth.

Tropical cyclone Narelle is currently a category 4 storm, and is gaining strength as it approaches Australia's northwestern coast.

The cyclone is expected to make landfall south of Perth early next week, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

On the opposite coast, there is no let up for firefighters battling bush fires across southeastern Australia, as temperatures continue to soar.

The Bureau of Meterology has fire weather warnings in place across New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, and Western Australia.

An extreme fire danger is forecast for the southern Riverina in NSW.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said there are 110 fires raging in the state, 14 of them uncontained. About 1,200 firefighters and 331 trucks are fighting the fires, which have burnt about 350,000 hectares.

Total fire bans are in place for Victoria, NSW and ACT.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the extreme temperatures are forecast to continue for the next week.


- nzherald.co.nz