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UN weather agency affirms 2020 Arctic heat record in Siberia, Russia


The UN weather agency said it has certified a 38-degree Celsius reading in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk last year as the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, the latest in a string of “alarm bells about our changing climate“.

The World Meteorological Organisation said the temperature “more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic” was registered on June 20, 2020, during a heatwave that swept across Siberia and stretched north of the Arctic Circle.

Average temperatures were up to 10 degrees Celsius more than usual in Arctic Siberia, playing a key role in forest fires, loss of sea ice, and global temperature rises that made 2020 one of the three hottest years on record.

Firefighters and volunteers have a briefing as they work at the scene of forest fire at Gorny Ulus area west of Yakutsk, in Russia.
Firefighters and volunteers have a briefing as they work at the scene of forest fire in Russia. (AP)

“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,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

Verkhoyansk is about 115 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and a meteorological station there has been observing temperatures since 1885, the WMO said.

Snow Covered Verkhoyansk Mountains in northern Siberia, Sakha Republic, Russia.
The normally snow-covered Verkhoyansk Mountains in northern Siberia, Sakha Republic, Russia. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Spokeswoman Clare Nullis said the record reading was the first of its kind in a new category of Arctic temperature monitoring, so there was no previous record to compare it with.

But 38 degrees has never been seen before in the Arctic, she said.

WMO is looking into a number of possible heat records, including 54.4 Celsius (129.9 Fahrenheit) recorded both this year and last in Death Valley, California, which could be a worldwide record high temperature reading, and 48.8 Celsius (119.8 Fahrenheit) on Italy’s southern island of Sicily this summer — which could be the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe.

An outdoor thermometer indicating 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) around 11pm in Verkhoyansk, Sakha Republic, about 4,660 kilometers (2,900 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia in June, 2020.
An outdoor thermometer indicating 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) around 11pm about 4660 kilometres northeast of Moscow. (AP)

Mr Taalas said WMO has never had so many investigations of possible heat records going at the same time, and they take time to verify.

The agency says the Arctic is among the fastest-warming regions of the world and is heating up at rates twice those of the global average.

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