Arctic Circle may have recorded its highest-ever temperature as Siberian town hits 100.4°F

The temperature was recorded in Verkhoyansk and while the World Meteorological Organization has accepted the observation as a new extreme, the record needs to be verified


                            Arctic Circle may have recorded its highest-ever temperature as Siberian town hits 100.4°F
(Getty Images)

Temperatures in the Arctic Circle may have hit an all-time high with Verkhoyansk, a northeastern Siberian town, recording 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) on June 20 (Saturday). If verified, this would make it the hottest-ever temperature documented in Verkhoyansk since record-keeping started in 1885, as well as the highest temperature ever observed in the Arctic. 

Randy Cerveny, a professor at Arizona State University, who leads the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) weather and climate extremes team, told The Washington Post that the UN agency is "preliminarily accepting the observation as a new extreme, pending further detailed review". "The preliminary finding is based in part on the upper air observations that bolster the surface temperature measurement," said Cerveny. The review process can take anywhere from six months up to a couple of years. "Once we’ve looked at all that information, we can make a determination if the record is valid or not," Cerveny told NBC News

After June 20's reading of 100.4°F, on June 21, the town recorded a temperature of 95.3°F (35.2°C), indicating that the previous day’s reading was not an anomaly. The average high temperature in June in Verkhoyansk was 68°F (20°C). If the record is verified, it would be 32.4°F higher than the June average. Verkhoyansk, which sits above the Arctic Circle, is home to about 1,300 people in the Siberian Arctic, about 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) east of Moscow. While the Arctic Circle begins at 66.5 degrees, Verkhoyansk is located at 67.5 degrees north latitude. The town is known chiefly for its exceptionally low winter temperatures, with a January average of −56°F (−49°C). Its minimum, −89.7°F (−67.6°C), is surpassed only by Oymyakon on the Indigirka as the lowest ever recorded outside Antarctica. 

Warming Arctic has serious global consequences

Arctic ecosystems and communities are increasingly at risk due to continued warming and declining sea ice, according to scientists. Surface air temperatures in the Arctic are believed to be warming at a rate twice as fast as warming across the rest of the planet, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Surface air temperatures in the Arctic are believed to be warming at a rate twice as fast as warming across the rest of the planet (Getty Images)

As a result of atmosphere and ocean warming, the Arctic is "no longer" returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades. In 2018, Arctic sea ice remained younger, thinner and covered less area than in the past," says an NOAA report. Continued warming of Arctic atmospheric temperatures in 2018 is an indicator of both regional and global climate change and a driver of broad Arctic environmental change, say experts. They explain that the growing atmospheric warmth in the Arctic results in a "sluggish and unusually wavy jet-stream" that coincided with abnormal weather events in both the Arctic and mid-latitudes. Notable extreme weather events coincident with deep waves in the jet-stream include the heatwave at the North Pole in autumn 2017, a swarm of severe winter storms in the eastern US in 2018, and the extreme cold outbreak in Europe in March 2018 known as "the Beast from the East".

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reported that May 2020 was globally the warmest May on record and that the most above-average temperatures were recorded over parts of Siberia, where they were up to 10°C higher than usual. "But it wasn’t just May that was unusually mild in this region; the whole of winter and spring had repeated periods of higher-than-average surface air temperatures, particularly from January onwards," says the analysis. Globally, May was 0.63°C warmer than the average May from 1981-2010, the warmest May in this data record. According to C3S, temperatures averaged over the 12 months from June 2019 to May 2020 were well above the 1981-2010 average over much of northern Siberia and the Arctic Ocean to the north, to the north of Alaska and over parts of West Antarctica, above-average over virtually all of Europe, and above-average over most other areas of land and ocean. 

A study published in December 2019 estimated that the Arctic has warmed by 0.75 degrees in the last decade alone. In comparison, Earth as a whole has warmed by nearly the same amount, 0.8°C, over the past 137 years. A rapidly warming Arctic has global consequences, scientists warned. 

The comprehensive report examined consequences for the polar regions as the Earth inches toward 2°C warming, a commonly discussed milestone. The researchers found that under a business-as-usual scenario, Earth as a whole may reach that milestone in about 40 years. But the Arctic is already there during some months of the year and it could reach 2° C warming on an annual mean basis as soon as 25 years before the rest of the planet, said the analysis. The authors said that active, near-term measures to reduce carbon emissions are crucial to slowing high latitude warming, especially in the Arctic.

The experts emphasized that major consequences of projected warming in the absence of carbon mitigation are expected to reach beyond the polar regions. According to the analysis, the expected consequences of increased Arctic warming include ongoing loss of land and sea ice, sea-level rise resulting from the rapid melting of land ice in the Arctic, threats to wildlife and traditional human livelihoods, increased methane emissions, extreme weather at lower latitude, deadly heatwaves and wildfire in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. "What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. The dramatic warming and melting of Arctic ice are impacting the jet stream in a way that gives us more persistent and damaging weather extremes," said study Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State, in the study published in Science Advances. 

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