Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 6:08 AM GMT on September 22, 2012
After the Azizia de-certication, what might the new African continental heat record be?
Following the WMO rejection of Al Azizia, Libya as the location where the world’s hottest temperature was measured, the WMO concluded that the new world record for such has fallen by default to Greenland Ranch, Death Valley and its 134°F (56.7°C) on July 10, 1913. But what is the new African continental heat record? For the sake of convenience the WMO has, at least temporarily, established the 55°C (131°F) reading made at Kebili, Tunisia on July 7, 1931 as the current new African record pending certification.
Unfortunately, the Kebili reading will probably end up just as suspicious as the Azizia record under close examination. A larger problem looms when we start to look at the large number of excessive extreme heat records reported from North Africa between 1885 and the Second World War (1942). Aside from Kebili, there have been a number of 130°F+ (54°C) temperatures reported during this period at half a dozen or so different locations in Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Yet following the Second World War to the present, the hottest verified temperature measured at any location in North Africa has only been 50.7°C (123.3°F) at Smara (also known as as-Samarah), Western Sahara (claimed by Morocco) on July 13, 1961.
The Kebili, Tunisia record of 55°C (131.0°F)
Kebili is one of the oldest oasis in north Africa and is now a popular tourist resort, lying at it does on the edge of the Saharan Desert near seal level about 40 miles east of the El Hamma du Jend Depression which is 23 meters (75 feet) below sea level.
A map of Tunisia showing the location of Kebili. The blue area is the dry lake of Chott El Jerid.
Temperature records have been kept here from 1901-1939, 1949-1953, and 2000-2012 so far as I have able to discern. The French colonial authorities of the Service Meteorologique de Tunis maintained the older records. A portion of the original data logs for this early period is in the NCDC archives and I looked at the POR of 1907 to 1932. Like Azizia, Kebili is subject to the foehn-like wind phenomena know as a Ghibili. Extreme 50°C+ temperatures were recorded on July 17, 1910: 53.0°C (127.4°F), July 1925: 50.0°C (122.0°F), August 1926: 50.8°C (123.4°F), July 1927: 54.0°C (129.2°F), and of course July 1931 with 55.0°C (131°F). No further 50°C+ temperatures were measured after 1931. However, during the 2000-2012 POR the maximum temperature measured (using modern equipment) has been 48.5°C (119.3°F) on July 26, 2005. So this certainly throws suspicion on the older Kebili records.
A recent photograph of one of the desert resorts at Kebili, Tunisia. Photographer unknown. Photo from Tunisian tourism site.
Once again, like Azizia, Kebili appears to be another place in North Africa recording astonishing temperatures during the period of colonial record prior to pre-WW II.
Unfortunately, there will be very little information available to investigators to authenticate these old measurements since at the time they did not represent potential world or continental records so we do not have a long history of published discussions or previous investigations (ala Fantoli for Azizia) to look at.
Other 53°C+ (127.4°F) North African temperature reports
Another site in Tunisia, Ben Gardene (or Ben Guerdane) also reported a 55°C (131°F) reading at some undetermined time in its early POR according to a mention in the World Survey of Climatology: Vol. 10, Climates of Africa’ on p.42. Ben Gardene is on the Mediterranean coast near the border of Libya. Its coastal location would seem to preclude such a phenomenal temperature. Another site in the Tunisian records, Dehibat, reported a temperature of 54.8°C (130.6°F) in July 1927.
A photograph of a French outpost at Dehibat taken in 1957. Photo by Tom Killian.
And yet another Tunisian site, Gafsa, reported 52.8°C (127°) during some July between 1901 and 1950. The warmest temperature measured in modern records in Tunisia is 50.1°C (122.2°F) at El Borma (al-Burmah) on July 26, 2005.
Ghadames, Libya has also reported a 55°C (131°F) temperature at some point during its POR of 1924-1942. More recently, a 54.2°C (129.6°F) reading in June 1975 and a 54.0°C (129.2°F) in May 1969 were recorded but found to be in error (in both cases the figures in the logs had been transposed, it was actually 45.2°C (113.4°F) in 1969 and 45.0°F (113°F) in 1975). Ghadames modern heat record is 48.4°C (119.1°F) in July 1977. The hottest temperature measured in Libya during the modern era is 50.2°C (122.4°F) at Zuara in June 1995.
In Algeria there is an ancient report of a 53°C (127.4°F) temperature occurring on August 27, 1884 at Ouargla. The U.K. Met Office publication Tables of Temperature, Relative Humidity and Precipitation for the World: Part 4; Africa includes a maximum temperature of 127°F (52.8°C) occurring at Ouargla in July sometime between 1925 and 1950. Algeria’s modern heat record is 50.6°C (123.1°F) at In Salah on July 12, 2002.
A copy of the French weather report for Algeria on August 27, 1884. There is no mention of the 53°C reading here or in any of the following daily or month’s reports. Image from ‘Bulletin Meteorologique du Gouvernment de l’Algerie’, Paris, 1877-1968 (retrieved via NOAA’s Central Library of Foreign Climate Data).
Timbuktu and Araouane, both in Mali and in the Saharan Desert have recorded temperatures of 130°F (54.4°C) in the past according to various sources. For Araouane, this happened in a July sometime between 1930-1940 according to the U.K. Met office publication mentioned above. The Timbuktu source for their supposed 130°F reading is unknown although records date back to 1896 here. No official temperature above 47.8°C (118.0°F)-set in May 1958-has ever been measured here. Mali’s modern heat record is 48.2°C (119.0°F) at Gao in May 1988.
Egypt’s official heat record is 51.0°C (123.8°F) measured by British colonial officials at Aswan on July 4, 1918. This could well be the new African continental heat record if we give the benefit of the doubt to the British colonial observers at that early time. At least there are probably some good sources to investigate this record in the British archives which cannot be said about the other European colonial powers of that era in North Africa. However, if we discount this record as well, then the modern Egyptian record of 50.3°C (122.5°F) at Kharga Oasis on June 9, 1961 would be Egypt’s national heat record.
The log sheet for the daily climate report for Egypt on July 5, 1918 showing the 51°C temperature recorded at Aswan on July 4th (date on sheet is July 5th but the daily temp reports refer to the day before). Table from British colonial archive.
A brief recap of the various locations in North Africa reporting temperatures of 53°C (127.4°F) or above:
55°.0°C (131.0°F) Kebili, Tunisia on July 7, 1931: Source ‘Service Meteorologique de Tunis’. Poor correspondence between colonial and modern records at this site.
55.0°C (131.0°F) Ghadames, Libya in June sometime between 1924-1942 : Source ‘Servizio Meteorologico, Rome’. Exact date unknown. Poor correspondence between colonial and modern records with the exception of two 54°C+ temperatures in 1969 and 1975 which are known transcription errors.
55°C (131.0°F) Ben Gardene, Tunisia date unknown: Source ‘World Survey of Climatology: Vol. 10, Climates of Africa’ and also probably ‘Service Meteorologique de Tunis’. No details known about this record, needs further research. Suspicious figure for a coastal location.
54.8°C (130.6°F) Dehibat, Tunisia in July 1927: Source ‘Service Meteorologique de Tunis’. Little further known about this site or record.
54.4°C (130.0°F) Araouane, Mali in July sometime between 1930-1940: Source ‘Service Meteorologique de Dakar’. No specific date yet found for this. No modern weather station maintained here.
54.4°C (130.0°F) Timbuktu, Mali date and source unknown. This record can be dismissed outright. The city has quite a long POR and no temperature above 118-119°F has ever been officially recorded here.
53.0°C (127.4°F) Ouargla, Algeria on Aug. 27, 1884: Source ‘Bulletin Meteorologique du Gouvernment de l’Algerie’? I looked through the data for Algeria in August and September 1884 and saw no mention of this figure or of Ouargla.
As can be seen from the data above, it would be daunting for WMO investigators to sort through all these contenders and come to any definitive conclusion. Perhaps the best way to approach this is via the asterisk (*) method for unverified old colonial records on the one hand versus another list of records from the modern era where we know for a fact the readings were made under standard conditions using modern equipment. The hottest verified modern temperature measured at any location in North Africa has only been 50.7°C (123.3°F) at Smara (also known as as-Samarah), Western Sahara (claimed by Morocco) on July 13, 1961.
Of course, it should be mentioned that there are most likely parts of North Africa that have recoded higher temperatures at some point in recent history than those listed above, but these locations have never had a weather station to officiate such.
KUDOS: Khalid Ibrahim El Fadli of the Libyan National Meteorological Center (LNMC) for details concerning the Ghadames, Libya temperature records. Maximiliano Hererra for modern African national heat records.
‘Tables of Temperature, Relative Humidity and Precipitation for the World: Part IV, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean South of 35°N and the Indian Ocean’, U.K. Meteorology Office, 1967.
‘World Survey of Climatology: Vol .10, Climates of Africa’, Elsevier Publishing, 1972
‘Bulletin Meteorologique du Gouvernment de l’Algerie’, Paris, 1877-1968
‘Service Meteorologique de Dakar’ Memento No. 7A, Moyennes. Rufisque, 1941 for Araouane, Mali data.
‘Service Meteorologique de Tunis’ Regence de Tunis, Protectorat Francais, 1907-1932 (NOAA Central Library Foreign Climate Data).
Christopher C. Burt
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