A brutal heat wave in the summer of 2020 left some portions of the Arctic Circle sweltering as temperatures soared to levels more typical of the Mediterranean. Now, meteorologists have confirmed a temperature recorded during the worst of the heat was so unusual that it prompted a new category of record-keeping.
On Tuesday, the World Meteorological Organization, the official weather agency of the United Nations, announced that it had verified that the high temperature in the town of Verkhoyansk, Russia, on June 20, 2020, climbed to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is the first to hold the newly minted title of highest recorded temperature at or north of the Arctic Circle, defined as 66.5 degrees north.
AccuWeather forecasters say temperatures typically top out at only around 60 F by mid-June in Verkhoyansk, a town located 71 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The town's meteorological observation station has been in operation for more than 135 years, dating back to 1885.
A summer day with temperatures nearing 100 F is more common in places like Athens, Greece, or even Taipei, Taiwan,-- not the Arctic Circle.
"This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate. In 2020, there was also a new temperature record (65 F or 18.3 C) for the Antarctic continent," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
Before this year, records in the Arctic Circle were not separated out in the WMO's Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes, which includes detailed weather extremes from around the globe. However, given "extreme temperature and ongoing climate change," a panel of experts was convened to add this newest category, according to the WMO.
While records for the Antarctic region, defined as areas south of 60 degrees south, have been available in the Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes since 2007, this is the first year that both polar regions will be represented.
|This image shows the Land Surface Temperature obtained from Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite data acquired on June 19, 2020. LST can be thought of as showing "skin surface temperatures of the Earth." (European Union , Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery)|
Verkhoyansk, now officially known as an Arctic Circle's hot spot, is no stranger to wild swings in temperature and extreme conditions, according to AccuWeather's team of meteorologists.
Verkhoyansk is located in Russia's Sakha Republic. The region is home to a very harsh and dry continental climate and is prone to hot summers and brutal winters.
"The extreme variation in temperature in Verkhoyansk is most apparent during the transition seasons," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski explained.
When Verkhoyansk transitions between summer and fall, for example, high temperatures can take dramatic tumbles within just a 24-hour period. In mid-October, the typical high temperature for Verkhoyansk hovers around 10 F. In 2021, the high temperature for the town hit an extremely high 54 F on Oct. 18, but just 24 hours later, the mercury struggled to reach 3 F.
The Arctic Circle is among the fastest-warming regions in the world and is "heating more than twice the global average," according to the WMO.
A year-and-a-half may seem like a long time to wait to verify a high-temperature record, but due to a number of factors including data analysis and quality control, taking this amount of time was imperative.
Another separate factor was the creation of a new category of climate record. Since the Arctic category was new for the WMO's archives in 2021, the evaluation committee had to dig through past climate data and check for "other possible past extremes of comparable value," according to the WMO.
The committee concluded that there were no known temperatures of 100.4 F (38 C) or above at any Arctic locations in recorded history and thus confirmed Verkhoyansk as the true record-holder.
In addition to verifying the highest temperature on record north of the Arctic Circle, the WMO also confirmed the lowest temperature ever recorded in the region. The lowest temperature record north of the Arctic Circle now belongs to Klinck, Greenland, with a low temperature of minus 93.3 F.
"Verifying records of this type is important in having a reliable base of evidence as to how our climate's most extreme extremes are changing," said Blair Trewin, who works for Australia's Bureau of Meteorology and is a member of the WMO's evaluation committee.
Extreme heat events weren't just limited to 2020 as they continued to occur across Russia in 2021. In June, a blistering heat wave roasted portions of the country, including the city of Moscow. Moscow climbed to an astounding 94.5 F on June 22 and tied the all-time June record high set back in 1901.
The WMO is also investigating the validity of two additional high-temperature readings from the past two summers. In both 2020 and 2021, Death Valley, Calif., soared to 130 F, but that reading is pending verification as some experts are skeptical about the town's potential world record. Elsewhere, a similar investigation is underway for a city on the Italian island of Sicily. The mercury at Siracusa, Italy, reportedly topped out at 119.8 F in August, which, if confirmed, would break Europe's continental heat record.
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