A NASA satellite image showing land surface temperatures in Siberia | ANSA

June 28 2020

The small Russian town of Verkhoyansk in Siberia is one of the coldest on Earth. If verified, the temperature recorded there on June 20 could mark the hottest temperature ever registered north of the Arctic Circle.

Reports that temperatures in a Russian town in the Arctic Circle likely reached a record 38C (100.4F), last weekend, have been approved by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) pending final verification, the United Nations specialized agency said on Tuesday.

Heatwave, climate change, wildfires

“The WMO is seeking to verify reports of a new temperature record north of the Arctic circle”, WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis told journalists in Geneva. “It was reported in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk amid a prolonged Siberian heatwave and increase in wildfire activity,” she said. 

Earlier on June 5, WMO reported that May was the warmest on record and carbon dioxide levels also hit a new high despite the economic slowdown from COVID-19.  It urgently appealed for renewed efforts to tackle climate threats.

“Our planet is sending us a clear warning. The need for immediate and ambitious #ClimateAction is more urgent than ever,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a post on Twitter on Monday.  He was reacting to the record high temperature registered in the Arctic Circle.  

According to WMO, the region of Eastern Siberia now in the spotlight is known for its weather extremes in winter and in summer, with temperatures above 30C (86F) not unusual in July.

The record Arctic temperature, more typical of the Tropics, comes a few months after the Argentine research base, Esperanza, on the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula, registered a new record temperature of 18.4C (65.3F) on 6 February.

The Arctic heating up twice as fast

According to WMO, the Arctic is heating at roughly twice the global average. Nullis explained that the heat spike follows a prolonged Siberian heatwave and wildfire period after an unusually warm spring that was also characterised by a lack of snow.

Data from WMO show that May was about 10C (18.5F) above average in many parts of Siberia, “and it was this extraordinary heat which actually drove, made the warmest May on record for…the northern hemisphere, and also we think at a global level as well”, said Nullis said.

According to WMO, air temperatures in the Arctic from 2016 to 2019 were the highest on record. 

Declining sea ice

Equally worrying was the volume of Arctic sea ice in September 2019 (after the melting season) which declined by more than 50 per cent, compared to the average from 1979 to 2019.

The unusual warmth in winter and spring was associated with an exceptionally early break-up of ice in Siberia’s rivers.

Warming planet

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service carried out more in-depth exploration of their data.

“Although the planet as a whole is warming,” Copernicus said, “this isn’t happening evenly.”  It noted that western Siberia was warming faster than average.  “This means that, to some extent, large temperature anomalies are not unexpected. However, what is unusual in this case is how long the warmer-than-average anomalies have persisted.”

Above normal temperatures are expected to continue across the majority of the Arctic for June–August 2020, according to the Arctic Climate Forum, which provides information for decision-makers about a rapidly changing region, which is warming more than twice the global mean.