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Italy may have seen Europe's hottest day ever

But the 120-degree reading from Sicily, which needs to be verified by the World Meteorological Organization, was treated cautiously by some experts.
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Europe may just have seen its hottest day ever.

A temperature of almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit was reported in Sicily on Wednesday and, if verified, would be a record for the continent.

The 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.84 Fahrenheit) temperature was recorded by Sicily's agriculture-meteorological information service, SIAS, at the Syracuse station on the island's southeast.

The hottest verified temperature on the continent is 48 degrees Celsius, or 118.4 degrees Fahrenheit, in Greece on July 10, 1977.

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The high temperature reading came as a heatwave is baking parts of the Mediterranean and contributing to massive wildfires that have killed dozens of people.

In Greece, fires have ripped through the country for more than a week, ravaging forests, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.

Image: A man refreshes himself in a fountain during a hot summer day in Messina, Sicily, Italy
A heat wave fed by hot air from North Africa has engulfed large parts of the Mediterranean region in recent days.Giovanni Isolino / AFP - Getty Images

Michael Mann, a climatologist and professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, said it's significant that there have been record highs, at least provisionally, in North America and Europe this summer.

"It is reflective of the unprecedented weather extremes that we are now seeing as a consequence of human-caused climate change," Mann said in an email.

A sobering U.N. climate change assessment released this week included findings that the secretary-general called "a code red for humanity."

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that the Earth's climate is changing in every region and that the changes are unprecedented in thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.

But experts urged caution on the Sicily temperature, including the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization that would need to verify the record.

Sylvie Castonguay, editor of the WMO's strategic communications office, said Thursday the agency was looking into the observation. She noted that it was not made by the official Italian weather service, which is run by the military.

"We cannot yet make any preliminary assessment of the 48.8 [Celsius] observation, pro or con," she said.

Randy Cerveny, the agency’s rapporteur for weather records, called the reported temperature "suspicious, so we’re not going to make any immediate determination," according to The Associated Press.

“It doesn’t sound terribly plausible,” Cerveny said. “But we’re not going to dismiss it.”

Italy’s air force meteorological service said it had not recorded temperatures approaching that high on Wednesday but that its stations are in other locations so variations are expected, the AP reported.

The world record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth stands at 134 degrees Fahrenheit recorded at Death Valley in the United States on July 10, 1913.

The hottest temperature ever recorded had been said to be 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit from Libya on Sept. 13, 1922. But the WMO in 2012 declared that record invalid.

A team that investigated the El Azizia record identified several issues, including a likely inexperienced observer and an unsuitable thermometer that could be easily misread, and the extreme didn't correspond with other sites.