|Above: MODIS satellite image of the Ouargla, Algeria area in the Sahara Desert on July 5, 2018. A world-record hottest temperature for Africa was recorded in Ouargla that afternoon. Image credit: NASA.|
A historic heat wave in northern Africa on Thursday, July 5, brought Africa its hottest reliably measured temperature on record: 124.3°F (51.3°C), at Ouargla, Algeria. Ouargla (population 190,000) is the capital city of Ouargla Province in the Algerian Sahara Desert, at an elevation of 719 feet (219 meters).
The key word here is ‘reliably’. Many hotter temperatures have been reported in Africa during the colonial period—including the official African record of 131°F (55.0°C) at Kebili, Tunisia on July 7, 1931—but all of these hotter temperatures have serious credibility issues, as explained by wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt below. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the previous all-time African record for reliably measured maximum temperature was 123.3°F (50.7°C) on July 13, 1961 at Semara, Western Sahara. His research shows that the hottest temperature reliably measured in Kebili, Tunisia was 119.3°F (48.5°C) in July 2005, with the second highest reliably measured temperature coming this Thursday, at 118.8°F (48.2°C)--a far cry from the official record of 131°F (55.0°C)!
Bogus African temperature records from the colonial period
According to a 2016 post by Mr. Burt, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recognizes a figure 131°F (55.0°C) at Kebili, Tunisia on July 7, 1931 as the official Africa heat record. In addition, there have been many other hotter readings than Thursday’s 51.3°C measurement in Algeria. All of these hotter measurements were made at/by French or Italian military outposts during the pre-1950 colonial period, and are not reliable. The most notorious of these was the 136.4° (58.0°C) reading from September 13, 1922 at Al Azizia, Libya, which stood as the world-record hottest temperature for 90 years. After a years-long official WMO investigation, prompted by the doubts of Mr. Herrera and Mr. Burt about the measurement, this record was cast down in 2012. A similar investigation would have to be done on the official African record of 131°F (55.0°C) at Kebili, Tunisia on July 7, 1931 in order to overturn it. Here, then, is a summary of Mr. Burt’s notes on bogus African temperature records:
134.8° (57.1°C) July 12, 1936 Tindouf, Algeria
SOURCE unknown, perhaps Service Meteorologique, Dakar
NOTES: The hottest temperature measured at Tindouf in modern records is 118° (47.8°C) in July 1998. The older records (1925-1950) as reported in Tables of Temperature, Relative Humidity and Precipitation for the World, British Meteorological Office, 1967 show an absolute maximum of 122°F for Tindouf. An anecdotal reading of 57.1°C was also reported from Ouargla, Algeria on Aug. 27, 1884. It is not climatologically possible this site (or Ouargla) could have recorded such a temperature given its altitude near 2000 feet.
VALIDITY SCORE: 0
131° (55.0°C) June (sometime between 1924-1942) Ghadames, Libya
SOURCE: Libyan National Meteorological Centre
NOTES: Errors in keying in data for all of the 50°C+ recordings at Ghadames have been uncovered by the Libyan National Meteorological Center. For instance, a report of 54.2°C in June 1975 was actually 45.2°C and a 54.0°C reading in May 1969 was actually 45.0°C. Data for Ghadames prior to 1955 is considered unreliable because of instrument exposure issues. The highest reliable temperature measured at Ghadames is 48.4°C (119.1°F) in July 1977. Ghadames is not a particularly hot location in spite of what the old colonial temperature data shows. It has a good long record and the hottest modern (post 1960) temperature using good instruments has been, as mentioned above, just 48.4°C.
VALIDITY SCORE: 0
131° (55.0°C) date unknown Ben Gardene, Tunisia
SOURCE: World Survey of Climatology: Vol.10, Climates of Africa, p.42
NOTES: This site is on the Jefara Plain along the Mediterranean Sea as is Al Azizia, Libya and subject to the Ghibili (foehn-like) wind phenomena. However, no modern temperature above 125.6°F (52°C) has yet to be measured here. The older recordings by colonial stations used thermometers and shelters that probably cannot be accepted today. Furthermore, the modern records from this site do not support the possibility of such a high reading. See note below for Kibili.
VALIDITY SCORE: 0
131° (55.0°C) July 7, 1931 Kebili, Tunisia
SOURCE Service Meteorologique, Tunis
NOTES: There is a disconnect between many of the old (pre-1950) French and Italian colonial temperature records from many African weather stations versus the modern records at these same sites. Kebili is one of those. Between 1920-1933, Kebili reported 50-55°C maximum temperatures almost every summer. But since 2000 its absolute maximum has been only 48.5°C (119.3°F). The older recordings by colonial stations involved thermometers and shelters that probably would not be accepted today. Furthermore, the modern records from this site do not support the possibility of such a high reading. A brief period of modern records from 2000-2010 has a 48.5°C (119.3°F) reading on July 26, 2005. But this is a long way from 55°C (131°F) measured during the 1920-1935 period of record. I give the Kebili record a single point only because at least we have a date and source for the reading and so it could be investigated more closely. The WMO currently accepts this reading as the record for the continent of Africa.
VALIDITY SCORE: 1
130° (54.4°C) June (sometime between 1931-1940) Araouane, Mali
SOURCE: Service Meteorologique, Dakar
NOTES: Timbuktu has also supposedly recorded 130°F in the past (its modern record is 47.8°C/118°F in May 1958). Once again, there is a disconnect between the colonial era temperature measurements and the modern-era ones (see Kibili, Tunisia note above). There is no weather station in Araouane now, but the hottest modern and reliable temperature in Mali is 48.2°C (118.8°F) at Gao in May 1988. The older recordings by colonial stations involved thermometers and shelters that would not be accepted today.
VALIDITY SCORE: 0
Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang has more on the Algeria record, as well as a recap of some of the world-wide heat records set in the past week.
Thanks go to Maximiliano Herrera and Christopher C. Burt for their assistance with this post.
There will be a new post on the tropics late this morning. If you have a comment related to the tropics, please use yesterday’s post for it, until I make the next post on Hurricane Beryl and Supertyphoon Maria. Thanks! - Jeff Masters