A Siberian town, nestled about 6 miles within the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) on Saturday, likely setting a new record for the hottest temperature recorded that far north.
The milestone comes as Siberia — and the Asian continent as a whole — have experienced unusually warm conditions since the start of 2020. And while it’s tricky to know the impact of climate change on individual records or temperatures in any given season, experts say the developments are part of a broader warming trend that has been documented across the globe.
Siberia has been in the grips of a heat wave in recent weeks that has contributed to devastating wildfires and has exacerbated the melting permafrost.
“The whole region has been off-the-charts warm lately,” said Brian Brettschneider, a climate researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The blast of heat is being caused by a high-pressure ridge of air — sometimes called a heat dome — that is blanketing the area, he said. When this happens, air gets squeezed into one location and sinks, pushing warm temperatures down to the surface.
“The high-pressure ridge also prevents clouds from forming, so sunshine comes through without being modified by clouds,” Brettschneider added. “North of the Arctic Circle, when that temperature was observed, they had 24 hours of daylight, so they were receiving solar energy for those entire 24 hours.”
The 100.4-degree reading was logged in Verkhoyansk, a town in northeastern Siberia known for its wild temperature fluctuations. In the winter, it is typically one of the coldest places on Earth, but it’s also no stranger to temperate conditions in the summer months.
“This community is famous for having the biggest extremes between winter and summer than any city in the world,” Brettschneider said. “In January, their average high temperature is minus 47 degrees [Fahrenheit], and in June and July, their average temperature is close to 70 degrees. In their climate history, they’ve been above 90 degrees over 150 times, and above 95 degrees at least a dozen times.”
Forecasts suggest that this part of Siberia could see at least another week of above-average temperatures before things stabilize, he said. But conditions in Asia have been warmer than usual for most of 2020.
“Since the start of the year, we’ve been noticing that Asia — particularly northern Asia, like Russia — has been extremely warm,” said Ahira Sánchez-Lugo, a climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
According to NOAA’s global climate data, last month was the warmest May on record for the Asian continent, following what was the third-warmest April for Asia since record keeping began in the 1880s.
While there are natural climate variabilities from year to year, scientists have been tracking the overall increase in global temperatures across land and oceans, and the accelerated pace of that warming due to human-caused climate change.
“From 1910 to 2019, temperatures have been increasing 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade, but if you look at 1980 to the present, it’s double that rate,” Sánchez-Lugo said.
It’s therefore critical to consider temperature records within the context of overall climate trends.
“Individual records are noteworthy, but they don’t necessarily tell us the whole story,” Brettschneider said. “Anything can happen on any given day, but in a warming world, substantially above-average temperatures are becoming more common than they used to be.”
This weekend’s temperature reading at Verkhoyansk is still considered preliminary, and scientists at the World Meteorological Organization will now conduct an investigation to determine if indeed a new record was set.
The review process can take anywhere from six months up to a couple of years because researchers have to meticulously check to make sure the reading was not due to an anomaly. This involves verifying the equipment used to make the observations in Siberia and comparing it to readings of instruments in surrounding areas.
“The World Meteorological Organization is kind of the United Nations of weather services around the world, so we are in charge of determining world weather records — things like hottest temperature, coldest temperature or windiest place,” said Randall Cerveny, a professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University who oversees the team responsible for verifying global records for the agency.
He said the temperature reading appears to be sound so far, but his team will be working with the Russian government to conduct its review.
“We’re preliminarily accepting [the record], pending our formal investigation,” he said. “Once we’ve looked at all that information, we can make a determination if the record is valid or not.”