Hottest day in Arctic: WMO official warns of more extreme weather

As Verkhoyansk in Siberia recorded 38°C, governments must remember how a hotter Arctic region can affect the whole world
Hottest day in Arctic: WMO official warns of more extreme weather

When the mercury rose to 38 degrees Celsius in Verkhoyansk in Siberia on June 20, 2020, it was reported as the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic Circle region. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is assessing the veracity of this measurement which would verify the claim.

The Arctic region has experienced repeated heat waves in the last few months, with average temperature in Siberia 10°C above normal in May 2020.

The Arctic region is warming at twice the rate as compared to the rest of the planet due to feedback mechanism known as the Arctic amplification. A major chunk of this warming is a result of heat getting trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere due to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from human activities.

The climate in the Arctic region also impacts weather systems further south through the changing nature of the Arctic jet stream, which is a band of winds over the region that usually keeps the region insulated from winds in the lower latitudes.

Due to the warming, this jet stream is becoming wavy and allowing its cold winds to get out — and warm winds from outside to get in — thereby disrupting long-term weather conditions everywhere.

In India, the western disturbances that bring rainfall and snowfall in the winter and spring months to northwestern, northern and northeastern regions, are getting affected by disruptions in the Arctic jet stream.

The unusual rainfall in these regions in March, April and May in 2020 was due to greater activity of western disturbances.

Down to Earth spoke to Randall Cerveny, WMO rapporteur of Weather and Climate Extremes, about the recorded temperature and what it means for the future of climate in the region. Edited excerpts:

Akshit Sangomla: How accurate is the Verkhoyansk measurement of the highest temperature ever in the Arctic Circle?

Randall Cerveny: That is exactly what a WMO evaluation committee will now assess. Our preliminary analysis indicates that it was probably a good observation. But we will examine the equipment, the calibration of that equipment, the observation practices, the correspondence to surrounding stations’ observations, etc.

AS: How unprecedented is this record, if accurate?

RC: Well, 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. 

But in terms of our records, it is likely that we have not seen temperatures to the tune of 38°C value in the Arctic over the length of our observed temperature records of approximately 150 years.

AS: Siberia and the Arctic region have been recording extreme temperatures for quite some time now. What is the reason and what role has human-induced climate change played in it?

RC: The Arctic is one of the more climatically sensitive regions of the Earth. As warmer temperatures create less and less snow cover for the area, the feedback response (less white to reflect sunlight) can cause continually increasing temperatures. 

Because the overall global temperature increase is primarily the result of human activity, we, the human race, have to take responsibility for these extremes.

AS: What is the scenario going to be like in the future?

RC: Unfortunately, unless governments and countries change their policies, more frequent extremes of this type will be observed.

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