100.4-Degree Temperature in Siberia in 2020 Is Highest Ever in Arctic: U.N. Weather Agency

The small Siberian town of Verkhoyansk recorded the highest temperature documented in the Arctic last year, the United Nations' weather agency said Tuesday. The World Meteorological Organization certified a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on June 20, 2020, a record that the agency said was "more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic."

Siberia experienced the high temperatures during a heat wave that spread across the region and into the Arctic Circle. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement that the findings regarding Verkhoyansk were cause for concern.

"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," Taalas said.

Officials also confirmed a temperature record of over 64 degrees Fahrenheit for the Antarctic continent in 2020, Taalas said.

Verkhoyansk, which is about 74 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is located in a part of Siberia that experiences an extreme and "very harsh" dry continental climate with very cold winters and hot summers, the WMO said. The meteorological station that recorded the record high has been monitoring temperatures since 1885.

"Fundamentally, this investigation highlights the increasing temperatures occurring for a climatically important region of the world. Through continued monitoring and assessment of temperature extremes, we can remain knowledgeable about the changes occurring in this critical region of the world, the polar Arctic," said Randall Cerveny, the chief rapporteur of climate and weather extremes for the WMO and an Arizona State University professor.

"It highlights the need for sustaining long-term observations which provide us benchmarks of the state of the climate system," he added.

Siberian Heat Record
The U.N. weather agency has certified a 38-degree Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) reading in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk last year as the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic. Above, a man rides his bicycle through smoke from a forest fire covering Yakutsk, the capital of the republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, Russia Far East, Russia, on Thursday, August 12. Ivan Nikiforov/AP Photo

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

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.

The 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 recorded in Europe.

Taalas said the 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Russian Forest Fire
Average temperatures were up to 10 degrees Celsius higher than usual in Arctic Siberia in 2020, playing a key role in forest fires. Above, firefighters and volunteers have a briefing as they work at the scene of forest fire in the Gorny Ulus area west of Yakutsk, Russia, on Saturday, August 7. Ivan Nikiforov/AP Photo