Fiery, Not Freezing: Arctic Town Reaches 100º for First Time Ever

The Russian town of Verkhoyansk is known for its extreme temperatures, but this is unprecedented.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s been five years since the Queen City officially cracked 100º (June 26, 2015), but a Russian town north of the Arctic Circle hit the century mark for the first time ever earlier this week. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk, Russia, a town of just over 1,300 people, recorded a high of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38ºC). Researchers from the World Meteorological Organization are trying to confirm the record, which would break the previous high reading of 99º from 1988 in the small Arctic community. Verkhoyansk, which is located in a remote part of northeastern Russia, is known for its extremes.

Temp Anomaly

Temperature anomaly map of the Northern Hemisphere from June 24. The Arctic has been most prone to extreme temperature swings over the past several decades.

No Stranger to Extremes

Verkhoyansk is world-renowned in the meteorological community, thanks to its wide variations in temperatures. Not only does the Siberian town join Fort Yukon, Alaska, as the only populated place north of the Arctic Circle to crack 100ºF, but it also received a Guinness world record for the coldest temperature recorded in a populated settlement above 1,000 people when it hit a low of -90ºF back in 1892. With a difference of 190ºF between the two extremes, Verkhoyansk is known as the extreme temperature capital of the world; no other place on Earth has such a range between its record highs and lows. While highs in the community commonly reach above 80ºF over the summer, the average year-round temperature is a bone-chilling 6ºF.

From Curiosity to Concern

Despite this well-documented vast spectrum between hot and cold in the region, scientists are particularly disturbed at the rate the Arctic has been warming. Russia just experienced its warmest winter on record, and 2020 is off to a blazing start in the Eurasian country. Since the beginning of the year, temperatures in Siberia are almost 13ºF above where they would normally be. Josh Overpeck, the dean of the University of Michigan’s climate school, says, “The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire — it’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires.” Siberia also just had its warmest May on record, with some spots coming in even 18ºF above-normal.

Fiery Instead of Freezing

According to Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization that fights climate change and promotes conservation and environmentalism, over four million hectares (15.5 thousand square miles, roughly the size of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island combined) of Siberia burned last year, and 2020 is on pace to exceed that. According to Vladimir Chuprov, the director of Greenpeace in Russia, fires have already been burning much earlier than their normal beginning in July and for longer than usual this year. The warm weather paired with destructive wildfires can have a disastrous domino effect on the environment, causing permafrost to melt quicker, which in turn releases large amounts of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat and carbon dioxide up to 28 times more efficiently than carbon dioxide and is one of the atmospheric compounds monitored by countries in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Closer to Home

 Stripes North America Usa North Carolina 1895 2019 No Withlabels

North Carolina temperature anomaly per year since 1895. Blue stripes are years where the yearly temperature was cooler than average. Red stripes are years where the yearly temperature was above average. Darker stripes of either color are years with more extreme values.

While the Carolinas are not seeing warming at the same rate the Arctic is, we still are heating up at a concerning rate. 2019 was the second-hottest year on record for the Charlotte area and six out of the top 10 warmest years on record in the Queen City have come in the past decade. This year has also been coming in warm, as only 1990, Charlotte’s hottest year on record, had a warmer three-month start than 2020. There is hope for the future, however. In 2018, the Charlotte City Council passed a plan to “emit nearly zero carbon from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2030 and lower the per-capita carbon emissions from Charlotteans by a factor of six.” Charlotte was also the winner of Michael Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge for the plan. With the North Carolinas State Climate Office predicting a “Florida Panhandle- or northern Mexico-like climate” arriving in the Carolinas by 2080, however, we still have a lot of work to be done.