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Hottest Reliably Measured Air Temperatures on Earth: PART TWO

By: Christopher C. Burt, 5:17 AM GMT on August 19, 2016

Hottest Reliably Measured Air Temperatures on Earth: PART TWO

In my previous blog I discussed the various contenders for what might be the hottest reliably measured air temperatures on Earth. That blog focused on those that were most likely not reliable for various reasons. In this blog I will briefly list those that I believe to be the most reliably measured. This takes into account such factors as climatology (general and specific to the sites at time of observation), properly exposed instrumentation, and good correspondence with other temperature observations in the vicinity of the record-breaking site(s).

As discussed in the conclusion in my previous blog, it would appear that the 54.0°C (129.2°F) reading measured at Mitribah, Kuwait on July 21st, 2016 and the 129.2°F (54.0°C) reading observed at Furnace Creek, Death Valley, USA on June 30, 2013 are the leading contenders for hottest reliably measured temperatures yet measured on Earth. However, it should be noted that it is not evident yet that the Kuwait Meteorological Department has confirmed the validity of the Mitribah reading observed this past July.

Map of weather stations maintained by the Kuwait Meteorological Department. Mitribah is the site numbered 40551 in the far northwest of the country. Map from Kuwait Meteorological Department web site.

Also, it should be noted that as per NWS (National Weather Service) practice, temperatures at official U.S. weather sites are rounded off to the nearest full degree Fahrenheit, so the official high at Death Valley that day in June 2013 was logged at 129°F (53.9°C) not 129.2°F. It is the photographic evidence (see below) that establishes the reality of the temperature actually peaking at 129.2°F (54.0°C).

A photograph of the official Furnace Creek, Death Valley maximum recording thermometer at time of observation on Monday morning July 1, 2013 (which was for the maximum temperature measured on June 30). The photo shows a maximum of 129.2°F was reached. Observations at the site are made only at 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily. The shelter door is not opened at any other time in order to not affect the ambient air temperature inside the shelter. You may have seen a different image of this same thermometer on the NWS-Las Vegas web site posted July 1, 2013 that shows the temperature just shy of 129°. That is because THAT photograph was taken after the thermometer had been removed from its shelter and turned vertically, which caused the mercury to slip down the tube about 0.3°F. This photograph was taken prior to the thermometer being removed from the shelter. Photo courtesy of Death Valley National Park and NWS-Las Vegas.

Death Valley has officially measured 129°F (53.9°C) on four previous occasions prior to June 30, 2013: on July 7, 2007, July 20, 2005, July 18, 1998, and on July 20, 1960. It is, therefore, possible that the actual maximum temperature on one or all of those occasions could have ranged anywhere from 128.6°F (53.7°C) to 129.4°F (54.1°C) given the rounding issue. So in conclusion we can say that if the Kuwait figure is verified than the Mitribah temperature would be the highest ‘officially’ measured temperature yet reliably measured on Earth although we have photographic proof of an equal temperature observed in Death Valley even though this 129.2°F instance is not recognized as ‘official’ by the U.S. National Weather Service.

Following the above two cases (Mitribah and Death Valley) the other top 10 or so hottest temperatures (again I emphasize reliably) measured on Earth have occurred in either Asia or the United States. Below is the full compliment of temperatures of 127.0°F (52.8°C) to have been observed and checked for quality:

2) 53.9°C (129.0°F) Basra Int’l Airport, Iraq on July 22, 2016

3) 53.6°C (128.5°F) Sulaibiya, Kuwait on July 31, 2012

4) 53.5°C (128.3°F) Moen Jo Daro, Pakistan on May 26, 2010

5) 128.0°F (53.3°C) Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA on June 29, 1994.

6) 53.0°C (127.4°F) Turbat, Pakistan on July 1, 2002

53.0°C (127.4°F) Sibi, Pakistan on May 26, 2010

53.0°C (127.4°F) Dehloran, Iran on July 28, 2011 and July 22, 2016

53.0°C (127.4°F) Gotvand, Iran on July 17, 2014

53.0°C (127.4°F) Nassirya, Iraq on August 3, 2011

7) 52.8°C (127.0°F) Jacobabad, Pakistan on June 12, 1919

52.8°C (127.0°F) Abdaly, Kuwait on July 16, 2010

127.0°F (52.8°C) Gold Rock Ranch, California, USA on July 28, 1995

In the early record of Arizona we have a reading of 127.0°F (52.8°C) at Parker, Arizona on July 7, 1905. This is of questionable veracity since although there was good correspondence with some other sites in the region during July 1905 (125° at Aztec, 124° at Fort Mojave, Phoenix 116°, Yuma 116°), in August (1905) Parker measured 126° and at that time it was completely out of correspondence with the other regional sites (it was only 112° in Phoenix, 111° at Yuma, and 118° at nearby Fort Mohave). So it raises a red flag about the quality of this site during that summer. By the way, it is interesting to note that since the summer of 1905 the hottest temperature measured in Parker occurred just this past June (2016) when it reached 125°F.

Also worthy of a footnote is the 54.0°C (129.2°) measured at Ahwaz, Iran on July 15, 1967 and 53.0°C at Haft-Tapeh. I am not sure if these readings are officially accepted by the Iran Meteorological Organization but climate expert Maximilliano Herrera tells me that manual weather stations in Iran prior to automation in the 1990s were somewhat suspect and that their temperatures were rounded off to the nearest 0.5°C or 1.0°C degree. Since automation in the 1990s average summer maximum temperatures as well as absolute annual maximum values have been a bit cooler at many or most sites. In addition, the temperatures have been measured to the nearest 0.1°C rather than 0.5° or 1.0°C pre-automation. Following the 1967 reading the highest temperature observed in Ahwaz has been 52.2°C (126.0°F) on July 1, 2000. During the late July 2016 record-breaking heat wave Ahwaz peaked at 50.4°C (122.7°F) on July 21st (the same day as the 54.0°C Mitribah observation).

All of the above temperatures have been recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. For those interested, here are the top five hottest temperatures ever reliably measured in the Southern Hemisphere:

50.7°C (123.3°F) Oodnadatta, Australia on January 2, 1960

50.5°C (122.9°F) Mardie, Australia on February 19, 1998

50.0°C (122.0°F) Wilcannia, Australia on January 11, 1939

49.8°C (121.6°F) Emu Creek, Australia on February 21, 1998

49.8°C (121.6°F) Forrest, Australia on January 13, 1979

Africa’s hottest reliably measured temperature is 50.7°C (123.3°F) at Semara, Western Sahara on July 13, 1961

South America’s hottest reliably measured temperature is 47.3°C (117.1°F) at Campo Gallo, Argentina on October 16, 1936.

Europe’s hottest reliably measured temperature is 48.5°C (119.3°F) at Catenanuova, Sicily, Italy on August 10, 1999.

Again, I must emphasize the key to the above data is the phrase ‘reliably measured’. Hotter temperatures have been reported by many sites at different times in the past but for one reason or the other are questionable. Also, of course, hotter temperatures have obviously occurred at locations beyond the sites of official weather stations. It is entirely likely that at some location (maybe just meters or a few kilometers from an official weather site) in Kuwait or Iraq last July a temperature of 130° may have been attained. In Death Valley it is speculated that Badwater, some 15 miles south of Furnace Creek and around 100 feet lower (282 feet below sea level versus 194 feet below sea level), is actually a bit hotter than Furnace Creek during the summer months. Experimental weather stations have been set up here during the summers of 1934 and 1959-1961. In 1934 a maximum temperature of 131°F (55.0°C) was apparently measured and the 1959-1961 station reported daytime maximum temperatures averaging about 2°F-3°F hotter than those at Furnace Creek. However, the maximum observed temperature during this time was just 129° in July 1960, the same as measured in Furnace Creek.

What may be an even hotter location than Furnace Creek in Death Valley is the Badwater Water Basin located about 15 miles south and almost one hundred feet lower than the official NWS site in Furnace Creek. On previous occasions experimental, temporary weather stations measured temperatures as high as 131°F here. Photo from WikiCommons.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Heat

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.