Australian weather bureau says La Nina likely peaked; heavy rain still expected

MELBOURNE, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Heavy rains are expected to continue into the early autumn in Australia, although the 2020-21 La Niña weather pattern has likely peaked, the country's weather bureau said on Tuesday.

"The 2020–21 La Niña is likely to have reached its peak with respect to sea surface temperature patterns in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean," the Bureau of Meteorology said.

It said sea surface temperatures had cooled slightly across the western and central Pacific Ocean over the past two weeks, while the eastern side of the basin had warmed up, and models showed neutral conditions would return late in the southern hemisphere summer or early fall.

The bureau expects above average rainfall in eastern and northern Australia to persist into the early part of the autumn, which begins in March.

Eastern Australia has experienced a wet summer, typical during a La Nina in the tropical Pacific, in sharp contrast to last summer, the country's second hottest on record, when bushfires killed 33 people and billions of native animals.

Tropical Cyclone Kimi, heading to the north coast of Queensland state, was downgraded with no damaging winds now expected. However the bureau said on Tuesday the storm may still dump heavy rain along the north east coast in the next few days. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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