Updated Aug 11, 2021 - Science

Sicily hits nearly 120 degrees, may have set Europe's all-time heat record

Map of temperatures in southern Europe and northern Africa
Computer model depiction of the combination of heat and humidity across North Africa and Europe on Wednesday. (Earth.nullschool.net)

A weather station in Sicily may have set an all-time high temperature record for all of Europe on Wednesday, when the temperature climbed to a scorching 48.8°C (119.8°F) amid a regional heat wave that has shown few signs of relenting.

The big picture: The intense heat wave continues to roast the Mediterranean and northern Africa. The hot and dry weather has played a large role in creating the conditions conducive for explosive and devastating wildfires in Turkey and Greece.

Details: Numerous monthly and national temperature records have fallen during the heat wave, including in Greece, Turkey and Tunisia, but if verified through an examination of the weather instruments, the Sicily observation would be the most noteworthy. The previous continental heat record was 48°C (118.4°F), set in Greece in 1977.

  • For the record to be considered, a committee from the World Meteorological Organization would need to investigate the instrumentation and circumstances of the data, including whether similar temperatures were observed nearby.

Context: As detailed in the IPCC climate report released Monday, human emissions of greenhouse gases are dramatically escalating the risk and severity of extreme heat events across the globe.

  • This summer has featured unprecedented heat in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., as well as in Europe. In the U.S. on Wednesday, about 170 million are under heat advisories or excessive heat warnings from the Northwest to East Coast.

The intrigue: There are some questions about the validity of the temperature reading, however. Randy Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organization's rapporteur for weather records, told the Associated Press the reading is “suspicious, so we’re not going to make any immediate determination.”

“It doesn’t sound terribly plausible,” Cerveny said. “But we’re not going to dismiss it.”

What's next: The hottest temperatures associated with this particular heat dome are expected to shift to Spain and Portugal in coming days, raising wildfire concerns in both nations.

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