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South Pole Records Warmest Temperature on Record

By: Christopher C. Burt , 9:14 PM GMT on December 29, 2011

South Pole Records Warmest Temperature on Record

On Christmas Day, December 25th, the temperature at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site soared to an all-time record high of 9.9°F (-12.3°C) at 3:50 p.m. local time, eclipsing the former record of 7.5°F (-13.6°C) set on December 27, 1978. The low temperature on December 25th was a mild (relatively!) 0°F (-17.8°C). Records at the site began in January 1957. Its elevation is 9,301 feet (2,835 meters).

This infrared satellite animation shows how a tongue of relatively warm air intruded inland over the Antarctic continent to the South Pole (identified by the red square). Temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit are displayed for the time period of the animation (from December 24th through December 25th). Two other AWS sites near the South Pole (100 kilometers to the north—along the prime meridian-and east of the pole) also broke their all-time heat records with Nico and Henry AWS sites reporting 17.2°F (-8.2°C) and 16.0°F (-8.9°C) respectively.

The normal high temperature for December at the South Pole is -15.7°F (-26.5°C).



Table of annual average and extreme temperatures for the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site. Table graphic from Wikipedia.

The coldest temperature on record for the South Pole site is -117.0°F (-82.8°C) set on June 23, 1982. The pole is one of the driest places on earth with an estimated total annual precipitation of just .20” (4.5mm) although blowing snow contributes to about an 8-inch snow accumulation each year.



An old, but beautiful, photograph of the South Pole station. The dome pictured here was dismantled in 2010. Photo by Galen Rowell. Galen was one of the greatest nature photographers ever (and a dear friend of mine), he died in a plane crash, along with his wife Barbara, in Bishop, California in 2002. His book 'Poles Apart: Parallel Visions of the Arctic and Antarctic' (Univ. of California Press, 1995) is a must view for those interested in the 'top and bottom' of our planet. This photo was taken back in the early 1990s.

The month of December has been average temperature-wise so far, in spite of the recent record warmth. This is because the first half of the month was colder than the normal -18°F (-27.8°C) daily mean. The low for the month was -29°F (-33.9°C) on December 10th and 13th.



Graphics for temperature and wind at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site during this month of December. From wunderground.com (temperatures based on METARS so they may not illustrate the actual daily minimums and maximums).

Antarctica’s all-time continental temperature extremes range from a low (world record) of -128.6°F (-89.2°C) at the Russian Vostok Station on July 21, 1983, to 59.0°F (15.0°C) at Vanda Station on January 5, 1974. Warmer temperatures have been measured on islands that are technically part of Antarctica but, of course, not part of the mainland. The warmest being 67.6°F (19.8°C) at the United Kingdom base on Signy Island, South Orkney, on January 30, 1982.

REF: See for more details on the event.


Christopher C. Burt

Weather Historian


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

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24. BaltimoreBrian
5:34 PM GMT on January 05, 2012
There's been some talk about a new Antarctic station being established on Dome Argus, which is closer to the South Pole than Vostok, and more than 1,000 feet higher. A good place for a new global record low.


Ridge A may also be another good choice to find the ultimate record low.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
22. cyclonebuster
12:37 AM GMT on January 04, 2012
We need to install global ice machines.

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21. DocNDswamp
8:07 PM GMT on January 03, 2012
I think a reminder is in order that Mr Burt just reported the new South Pole high temp record in due dilligence and did NOT attempt to attribute causation to AGW... Any debate on that has been brought forth by commenters here... While I joked about the POR being younger than myself (many stations vary widely with shorter / longer periods and quality of data concerns), I believe this station has been intensely monitored by the scientific community / calibration maintained in it's duration and the spike from 7.5F to 9.9F is a significant one worthy of note... And, IMHO, most likely was simply achieved by a combination of short-lived, well-timed natural weather events, perhaps something similar to a chinook wind...

But that's just my opinion / best guess at this point...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
20. SocalVin
6:47 PM GMT on January 03, 2012
Another record high in an unprecedented year of record highs. Of course any assertion that this single event in of itself was solely caused by global climate change would be irresponsible and unfounded.
What is more telling is the backdrop of record high temperatures over the last decade worldwide vs the record low temperatures recorded worldwide.

http://www2.ucar.edu/news/1036/record-high-temper atures-far-outpace-record-lows-across-us

As James Hansen illustrated in his recent work "Storms of My Grandchildren" it's not any particular weather event that illustrates the reality of climate change. Rather in our era of "new normal" the climatic dice have been loaded so that exceptionally warm events will become increasingly severe and frequent with a corresponding decrease in the severity and frequency of exceptionally cold events.
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19. Bert737800
6:43 PM GMT on January 03, 2012
55 years of record keeping and the alarmists come out in droves!!! Let's face it, the intent is to curb individual and economic freedoms using incomplete data to frighten the uninformed.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
17. airman45
3:50 PM GMT on January 01, 2012
spbloom-

Good point. I'm not a climatologist (or even close) but when the article said a "tongue" of warmer air moved in I was wondering if that was unusual there.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
16. spbloom
11:10 PM GMT on December 31, 2011
Quoting spbloom:


Maybe *more* impressive given how much the record was broken by (although with an equal difference, of course a longer record makes it more significant).

But what's probably most important here is the circulation change that resulted in the record. I'd like to know more about it.

Let's bear in mind:

Average global temp changes are a direct symptom of the build-up of GHGs in the atmosphere, but temp extremes are indirect since they're a consequence of the circulation changes. The latter is what we should really be paying attention to.


Just to add, global average temps can be relied to to increase only slowly on the scale of a human lifetime, but the circulation changes are a different story. Many of those will be far more abrupt, e.g. the Walker Circulation change that has led to the current drought in East Africa.
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15. spbloom
10:55 PM GMT on December 31, 2011
Quoting BaltimoreBrian:


Did the shirts come off? Did the sweat flow freely? ;)

Seriously it's a neat record. Not as impressive as a record from a station with history back to the 1800s. Still neat though.


Maybe *more* impressive given how much the record was broken by (although with an equal difference, of course a longer record makes it more significant).

But what's probably most important here is the circulation change that resulted in the record. I'd like to know more about it.

Let's bear in mind:

Average global temp changes are a direct symptom of the build-up of GHGs in the atmosphere, but temp extremes are indirect since they're a consequence of the circulation changes. The latter is what we should really be paying attention to.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
14. BaltimoreBrian
3:04 AM GMT on December 31, 2011
Quoting airman45:
9.9F.....All time record high

Must have been outside laying in the sun in your swimsuits if it was that warm!!


Did the shirts come off? Did the sweat flow freely? ;)

Seriously it's a neat record. Not as impressive as a record from a station with history back to the 1800s. Still neat though.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
13. spbloom
2:13 AM GMT on December 31, 2011
Quoting weatherhistorian:


Actually, just 55 years of record, although the South Pole site has one of the longest continuous POR of any site on mainland Antarctica. However, your point is valid that this is still a relatively short POR.

Jeff Masters once asked me what 'big time' world weather record was most likely to fall in the years to come. I said that probably the world cold record (currently held by Vostok) was probably the best candidate, given the short period of records we have for Antarctica.


Sure, Chris, but you shouldn't note that without also taking into account the amount by which the record was broken. 1.3C sounds like rather a lot for even a 55-year period of record.

Maybe ask Tamino to have a look at this?
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12. rand49er
1:43 AM GMT on December 31, 2011
Given that temperatures have been recorded only since 1957, this is hardly noteworthy in the big picture.
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11. DocNDswamp
4:17 PM GMT on December 30, 2011
Hi Chris,
LOL, another set of weather records younger than I am... but thanks, an interesting statistic.

What caught my eye was your mention of Galen Rowell (thanks for posting his fine photo!)... Never met the man personally, but very familiar since the 80's with his exceptional outdoor photography and his equal zeal as an accomplished hiker / mountain climber... In many ways, I regarded his work with same admiration and on par with Ansel Adams, but utilizing finest color slide film of the era and attention to technique, Rowell extracted amazing detail from the smaller 35 mm format and it's superior portability fit his "on-the-fly" style... Likewise ideal for my own swamp photography from a boat during that period, also felt a kinship with Galen in being both early adapters of Fujichrome films over the old Kodachrome standard, i.e the mid-late 80's "film wars", lol... Rowell is probably credited with adding the word "alpenglow" to describe that brief magic moment of first and last illumination of colorful pink sunlight, particularly spectacular on mountain peaks he frequently captured.

Galen was a master photographer, first class world-wide adventurer in the truest sense, a great writer, dedicated environmentalist and just an all-around great guy who loved and lived life to the fullest... I know how shocked, devastated I felt - and everyone involved in outdoor nature photography - when learned of his and wife's sudden deaths, so I can imagine what a tragic loss it was for you.

Thanks again, Chris,
G'day.
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9. airman45
7:15 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
9.9F.....All time record high

Must have been outside laying in the sun in your swimsuits if it was that warm!!
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8. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
5:12 AM GMT on December 30, 2011


faster and faster
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7. nentis
2:02 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
Hi Mr. Burt,

I am currently at the South Pole Station. That was quite an interesting weekend. High temps and high winds, we had a white Christmas.

Please update your article regarding the picture and the Dome status. The dome started to be dismantled in 2008 and the last piece was taken down in 2010 which makes your picture quite old.

--
Kris Amundson
Network Engineer
South Pole Station
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
1:30 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
Quoting seasons7:
Seriously...throwing the global warming card with only only 65 years of records.


Actually, just 55 years of record, although the South Pole site has one of the longest continuous POR of any site on mainland Antarctica. However, your point is valid that this is still a relatively short POR.

Jeff Masters once asked me what 'big time' world weather record was most likely to fall in the years to come. I said that probably the world cold record (currently held by Vostok) was probably the best candidate, given the short period of records we have for Antarctica.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. seasons7
1:06 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
Seriously...throwing the global warming card with only only 65 years of records.
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4. vBot
12:50 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
Who said global warming was a hoax? This is unprecedented, why hasn't the news picked up on this story, and why do so few people care? This is just as bad as all the sea animal die-off's that no one is covering.
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3. ptarmandiblex
12:31 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
We are doomed. I'm glad I'm old.
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2. Patrap
12:27 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
Why datz not a good thang at'all.

,,downright Balmy for there

Thanx for the entry on it.
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1. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
11:41 PM GMT on December 29, 2011
Wow!
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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.