SYDNEY, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A tropical low system in the Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast was expected to develop into a tropical cyclone, Australia's weather bureau said, forcing the country's key iron ore exporting terminal to clear ships from harbour.
The Pilbara Ports Authority said in a statement late on Wednesday it had begun clearing large vessels from anchorages at Port Hedland, the world's biggest iron ore loading hub, and that ships were directed to sail by 1200 GMT.
Port Hedland is used by three of Australia's top four iron ore miners - BHP Group BHP.AX , Fortescue Metals Group Ltd FMG.AX and Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill. Rio Tinto (LON: RIO ) Ltd RIO.AX , the world's biggest iron ore producer, uses the nearby port of Dampier.
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said a Category 1 or 2 cyclone could make landfall on the Pilbara coast, possibly as early as Friday afternoon, bringing heavy rains, gale-force winds and huge seas.
Although Category 1 or 2 cyclones are at the lower end of the scale, they still have the destructive power to delay port and mining operations.
The country's southeast coast is bracing for a major heat wave over the weekend with temperatures expected to cross 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in many places, prompting authorities to flag bush fire warnings.
A hot air mass will be sweeping in from Australia's outback interior to New South Wales (NSW), the country's most-populous state, and the Australian Capital Territory, BoM said on Thursday.
"By Friday, daytime temperatures throughout (NSW) are anticipated to be well above average," the weather bureau said, adding hot conditions were expected to peak Sunday into Monday.
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