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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.