Snow is falling in low-lying areas of Victoria and Tasmania for the first time in up to 50 years, as a cold snap hits south-eastern Australia.
The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting snow in the centre of Melbourne and at sea level in Hobart.
The bureau believes the weather could rival Victoria's coldest conditions in the past 20 years, with senior forecaster Scott Williams saying colder winds are yet to come through.
"It is surprising in that given what we've had this year, the warmest April on record, very much above-average temperatures for the last four months, that we've actually got an event like this," Mr Williams said.
"This one might rival the July 1986 event, where it actually snowed in the Melbourne CBD as well as Ballarat and many centres."
Snow has already fallen in Ballarat today, although none has been reported in Melbourne as yet. Mr Williams says it should only be a matter of time, at least in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs.
The biggest snow falls have been recorded in Gippsland in the state's south-east, where snow has fallen down to sea level.
The bureau says the uncharacteristic cold weather has taken hold in drought-affected areas as well as the coast.
'Covering the road white'
The snow has caught many communities by surprise, with some roads blocked school bus services cancelled between the Strzelckis and the Latrobe Valley.
Stephanie Jones from the newsagency at Korumburra south-east of Melbourne says it was snowing when she drove to work at 5:30 this morning.
"It's horrible," she said. "It's snowing and raining and wet and cold. It stuck around about 25 minutes, then it started to rain and then about 8:30am it started to snow again.
"It looks like it's set - it's snowing now, it's covering the road white."
Doug Forbes from Penshurst, near Hamilton in the state's south-west, says the area is covered in snow.
Mr Forbes says it has been about 50 years since it snowed in the area.
"The only thing I just observed is the sheep seem to be wandering around in a bit of a daze. They're probably not used to it, even if they've got big woolly coats on," he said.
Kevin Whelan from Outrim near Korumburra says he has been stranded at Mirboo North because of the continuing snow.
He says it was too dangerous to keep driving.
"The chap at the milk bar said it's been 20 years since he's seen snow like this," Mr Whelan said.
"I just called to see how far towards the valley it went because driving's fairly dangerous and you can't see the white posts or any white lines or the reflectors on the road there's that much snow."
Mr Whelan says in some areas he could not tell the road from the paddocks.
"There's two inches of snow over the bitumen road, shop verandahs with snow on the roof, cars on the street covered in snow, even a milk tanker just went through with snow on the top of him."
Snow fell in many elevated suburbs of Hobart overnight and the weather bureau's Simon McCulloch says more is on the way.
"I guess it's possible we might even see the odd flurry down to sea level during the course of the day," Mr McCulloch said.
But Mr McCulloch says Hobart is not in for a repeat of 1986, when the city was covered in snow.
Snow and ice has forced the closure of at least two roads in the State.
Police say a section of the Murchison Highway between Tullah and Fingerpost is closed to traffic, as is the Cradle Mountain link road.
Police warn motorists of heavy snowfalls on the Tasman Highway between Scottsdale and Derby in the north-east and snow is being reported at the Eaglehawk Neck lookout on the Tasman Peninsula.
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Schnee an der Küste !!
Low level snowfalls, though rare, have recurred throughout the century, and affected a surprisingly large area of the country. Some of the more memorable events follow:
On 5 July 1900, extremely heavy snow fell over central New South Wales, and elevations as low as 800 metres received nearly a metre of snow.
In Bathurst roofs, verandahs and lightly constructed buildings collapsed under the weight. Railway traffic out of Bathurst was paralysed, with passengers stranded in their carriages. Snow fell heavily to low elevations: at Forbes (240m elevation) 23 centimetres of snow covered the ground.
In a similar cold outbreak on 2-4 August 1943, snow fell over the eastern Riverina as far west as Lockhart. Tasmania’s Lyell and Lake Highways were closed for days, disrupting campaigning for a federal election. Heavy falls blanketed hilly parts of Victoria, and extended into northern NSW.
In winter 1951 snow blanketed most of Tasmania twice within three weeks (19-20 July and 9 August), blocking roads and interrupting mail services. On 9 August snow had to be shovelled from the streets of Queenstown (elevation 191metres). Light snow also fell in the streets and suburbs of Melbourne, and in Adelaide as well during the July event.
On 23 June 1981, large areas of western and northwestern Victoria were mantled in white. So much snow fell at lower levels of the Dividing Range that electricity transmission lines broke under the weight. In South Australia snow fell as far north as Wilpena and Blinman. Three years later (3 July 1984) snow extended from coastal western Victoria north along the Dividing Range to Stanthorpe and Toowoomba in Queensland. Sub-zero temperatures persisted at Armidale (northern NSW) for 36 hours.
Another two years later (early 25 July 1986) many Tasmanian locations had their heaviest snow on record. Most principal roads in Hobart were closed, effectively isolating the city until almost noon. Schools were shut for the day, and mail deliveries suspended. On the same day, snow fell in Melbourne and many suburbs, causing air traffic delays of up to four hours. Melting snow was observed in metropolitan Sydney, and further north at Gosford.
In southwestern Australia, there have been several occasions when wheatbelt towns have received a ground covering of snow. 26 June 1956 was particularly noteworthy, with low level snowfalls extending well north of Perth. Perhaps even more outstanding - because of the timing - were the snowfalls of 19 November 1992: virtually on the eve of summer, strong southerlies brought snow to many southern wheatbelt areas.
Finally, the not-widely-known event of 21 October 1995 was particularly impressive for the extent of its northward penetration across central Australia, and its occurrence in late spring. Snow fell to 200 metres above sea level over South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, and Broken Hill registered a maximum of just 5°C, its lowest recorded maximum in any month. This cold snap resulted in record low temperatures as far north as Wave Hill (in the Northern Territory).
In most cases the low level snow had gone within a day, with little economic dislocation. However, in some cases heavy losses occurred among recently shorn sheep and newly born lambs.