United Nations Confirms Hottest Temperature Ever Recorded in the Arctic

The record-breaking heat of June 2020 rings climate change ‘alarm bells,’ the World Meteorological Organization warns

A wildfire with lots of smoke burns across a grassland in Russia
The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the global average, leading to melting permafrost and raging peat fires. Anton Petrus via Getty Images

The United Nations (UN) has officially confirmed the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic. On June 20, 2020, temperatures reached a scorching 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk.

The UN’s confirmation of the heat record is the latest event to “sound the alarm bells about our changing climate,'' Petteri Taalas, the UN World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) secretary-general, said in the statement Tuesday.

Temperatures have been recorded in the Russian town, which is situated roughly 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle, since 1885. The record-breaking heat of June 2020 prompted the WMO to create a climate category for extreme weather events at the poles: "highest recorded temperature at or north of 66.5 degrees, the Arctic Circle,” reports Scott Neuman for NPR. The reading was taken during an extended heatwave when the region experienced temperatures 50 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal.

The temperature was "more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic,” the UN World Meteorological Organization said in a statement. The organization also noted that extreme heat was a key factor in ''fueling devastating fires, driving massive sea ice loss and playing a major role in 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record.''

Siberia's wildfires destroyed an area of more than 46 million acres of Russian forest in 2021, reports Ben Turner for Live Science. The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the global average, leading to the rapid melting of ice and permafrost and igniting “zombie fires” of carbon-rich peat.  During the heatwave of 2020, Siberia’s wildfires released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any previous fire season on record.

The reading taken in Verkhoyansk was just one of many soaring temperatures recorded in 2020 and 2021 that the organization is working to verify. Those record temperatures include a reading of 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, California, and a record 119.8 degrees Fahrenheit recorded on the island of Sicily in Italy.

Researchers concluded the region’s abnormally warm spell and record-breaking temperatures were virtually impossible without human-induced climate change, per the Washington Post’s Kasha Patel. Climate change made the prolonged heatwave from January to June at least 600 times more likely.

“Verifying records of this type is important in having a reliable base of evidence as to how our climate’s most extreme extremes are changing,” Blair Trewin from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology and member of the evaluation committee, said in a statement.

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