Russia Breaks Temperature Records With Siberia's Extraordinary Heatwave Playing Big Role

Russia has experienced unprecedented heat this year, according to the head of the country's weather service, with the vast region of Siberia in particular recording exceptionally high temperatures.

Roman Vilfand said that the first six months of 2020 were the warmest in the "history of instrumental weather observations" in the country.

The weather chief said that several locations in the Russian Arctic had experienced new record temperatures in June, with climate change contributing to the "fantastical" anomalies.

In June, "we had extremely anomalous weather," Vilfand said. "Previous records were broken easily."

Notably, the town of Verkhoyansk—located six miles north of the Arctic Circle in remote eastern Siberia—recorded a temperature of 100.4 F on June 20.

While the measurement, which is more than 32 degrees above the average for the town for that time of year, has not yet been verified by the World Meteorological Organization, it may well be the warmest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic.

Last month's exceptional heat in Arctic Siberia is highlighted in figures released today by the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), which reported that average temperatures in some parts of the region reached as high as 10 C(18 F) above normal for June.

Furthermore, the whole of Arctic Siberia saw average temperatures of more than 5 C above normal for June—higher than the two previous warmest Junes in 2018 and 2019.

Similarly, in May, temperatures were 18 F above average in northwestern Siberia—a new record—Weather Channel meteorologist Carl Parker told Newsweek.

While Siberia has the most variable climate in the world, regularly experiencing huge temperature swings between winter and summer, experts say that the past few months in Siberia have been unseasonably warm.

"What's unusual is the extraordinary persistence of the heat. The six-month period from December to May is likely far and away the warmest since 1880," Parker said.

Recent warm temperatures in the region, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of Russia's land area, have contributed to average temperatures being 9.5 degrees F above normal for the entire country between January and May, Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, told Newsweek.

"That shattered the previous record by 3.4 degrees F, and was the most anomalously warm January to May ever observed in any country's national average," Rohde said.

Experts say that certain meteorological factors, such as persistent areas of high pressure and low snow cover, have contributed to the high temperatures in many parts of Siberia in the past months. But Vilfand said that climate is also playing a key role by raising the temperature of the baseline Arctic climate, thus increasing the chances of abnormally high temperatures.

"What climate change is doing is moving the distribution of weather events, such that historically low-frequency, extreme events occur more frequently. Had the climate not changed due to man-made greenhouse gases, the heat we've seen in parts of Siberia would have been a 100,000-year event," Parker said.

Global warming is heating the Arctic at around two times the rate of the rest of the planet, meaning Russia—with its vast Arctic territories—is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

siberia, russia
A view of the Circum-Baikal Railway, Eastern Siberia, Russia. iStock

"Finding what caused these record temperatures is not a straightforward endeavor as there are many contributing factors interacting with each other. Siberia and the Arctic Circle in general have large fluctuations from year to year and have experienced other relatively warm Junes before," the director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, Carlo Buontempo, said in a statement.

"What is worrisome is that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world. Western Siberia experiencing warmer-than-average temperatures so long during the winter and spring is unusual, and the exceptionally high temperatures in Arctic Siberia that have occurred now in June 2020 are equally a cause for concern."

Hot conditions and lower-than-normal soil moisture are increasing the risk of fires, with the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reporting that recent fire activity has mostly been concentrated in the far northeast of Siberia.

According to CAMS scientists, the number and intensity of wildfires in the Sakha Republic and Chukotka Autonomous Oblast has been increasing since the second week of June, resulting in the highest estimated emissions in 18 years of data.

"What is remarkable with these fires in Siberia is the striking similarity with what we saw over the same period of last year in terms of both the area affected and the scale of the fires. Last year was already by far an unusual, and record, summer for fires in the Arctic Circle in our Global Fire Assimilation System dataset, which goes back to 2003," CAMS senior scientist and wildfire expert Mark Parrington said in a statement.

"This year has evolved in a very similar way and if it continues to progress like last year, we could see intense activity for the next few weeks," he said. "Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area."

According to Russia's federal forestry agency, 7,241,744 hectares of land had burned in the country as a whole this year as of June 29. This is almost exactly the same as last year when 7,246,919 hectares of land had burned by June 29. By the end of last year's fire season, more than 16.5 million hectares of land had burned in Russia as a whole.

Vilfand said that the forecast for the coming weeks suggests Russia will experience a very hot summer, warming of the potential for "dangerous weather events" in July.

"The fact that there will be a high temperature is certain. With a 99 percent probability, it will be among the five hottest years," Vilfand said to RBC.

Exceptionally high temperatures in Siberia have contributed to average temperatures for June that were on par with the hottest June on record in 2019, which was 0.53 C above the 1981-2010 average, according to C3S. For June this year, Siberia stands out as the region with the largest temperature anomalies.