WMO confirms 2020 heat record in Siberian town

Verkhoyansk, a town in Siberia, recorded a temperature of 38°C June 20, 2020 —;the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic region
WMO confirms 2020 heat record in Siberian town

Verkhoyansk, a town in Siberia, recorded a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius on June 20, 2020. It was then pushed as the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic region.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has now confirmed that the Siberian town, 115 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, did experience the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic region. 

All landmasses and seas north of 66.5° latitude are considered the Arctic region. The latitude itself is called the Arctic Circle.

The weather station at Verkhoyansk, located in the northern part of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), has been recording data since 1885. It falls in eastern Siberia, which has an extremely harsh dry continental climate (very cold winter and hot summer).

At the time the highest temperature was recorded, most of the Arctic region, especially Siberia, was experiencing an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures in the Siberian Arctic rising up to 10°C above normal.

This led to forest fires and massive sea ice loss and was one of the reasons for 2020 becoming one of the three warmest years on record despite a cooling La Nina phenomenon towards the end of the year.

The Arctic region is warming at more than twice the rate as the rest of the world, mainly because of human-made greenhouse gas emissions. The increased rate of warming is because of a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification, wherein the melting ice hastens the process of warming by exposing areas that are not good at reflecting back heat into the atmosphere.

This creates a feedback loop between melting ice and rising temperatures, amplifying the impact of warming. 

The impact of warming on the region is such that the WMO has added a new category — “highest recorded temperature at or north of 66.5⁰C, the Arctic Circle” — to its international Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes.

Extreme weather-related incidents include rainfall, temperatures (highest and lowest), heaviest hailstone, longest dry period, fastest gust of wind, longest lightning flash and deaths due to weather-related disasters.

Temperatures have been rising on the other end of the planet as well. On February 6, 2020, at the Esperanza station in Argentina considered to be a part of the Antarctic region, a temperature of 18.3°C was recorded.

WMO recognised this reading as the highest-ever recorded in the region on July 1, 2021.

WMO had also rejected another temperature record of 20.75°C reported from Seymore Island (Brazil) on February 9, 2020. The official weather agency of the United Nations has been keeping a record of weather extremes in the Antarctic since 2007.

With the addition of the new Arctic category, both the polar regions of the world are now represented in the archive.

“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 from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. He is also a member of the evaluation committee that concluded on the Arctic temperature record.

“Fundamentally, this investigation highlights the increasing temperatures occurring for a climatically important region of the world,” said Randall Cerveny, WMO rapporteur of Weather and Climate Extremes.

“We can remain knowledgeable about the changes occurring in this critical region of the world, the polar Arctic, through continued monitoring and assessment of temperature extremes,” he added.

Cerveny had in June 2020 told Down to Earth to “keep in mind that we do not have as many weather stations in the Arctic as we would like, so it is possible that temperatures of that magnitude have occurred but simply haven’t been measured”.

He had also pointed out the role of global warming in the high temperatures being recorded.

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