Temperatures in Kuwait reached a staggering 54°C (129.2°F) last week, which is the highest ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere, and the second-highest on the planet in recorded history. As reported by the Guardian, the nearby Iraqi settlement Basra reached 53.9°C (129°F), and all government agencies were shut down in response.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the current record holder for the highest air temperature is one from the appropriately named Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California. The mercury back in 1913 hit 56.7°C (134°F), just edging out Kuwait by a few degrees. The accuracy of this measurement is still being debated by various meteorologists, however, so Kuwait’s mercury spike could potentially take the top spot in the future.
Oddly, Death Valley has only been the record high since September 2012. For the previous 90 years, the record was a searing 58°C (136.4°F) as measured in El Azizia, Libya, in 1922, but the WMO disqualified it after determining that the observer of the equipment that recorded that temperature was inexperienced, and they likely misread it.
As record-breaking as Kuwait’s temperature is, it cannot be said that its appearance is directly related to man-made climate change – after all, it’s just one data point, and proper scientific analysis requires far more than that. However, this year has currently been setting all kinds of awful climate change records, with June being the 14th consecutive month in a row that’s been the hottest in human history. It’s unlikely that Kuwait’s impressive temperature record, then, is merely a coincidence.
In fact, Kuwait is one of the regions that man-made climate change is affecting the most severely. Apart from the disintegrating Arctic, desert regions in the Middle East are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. By the end of the century, there’s a good chance many of them will become uninhabitable to humans.
Kuwait City. Arlo Magicman/Shutterstock
Kuwait’s temperature peak was recorded at a weather station in Mitiribah, a remote northwestern section of the country. The WMO has yet to receive the data, so the record is not yet official, but it’s expected to be given the stamp of approval.
It’s important to note that determining the hottest temperature in the world entirely depends on how you measure it, much in the way that Mount Everest may or may not be the tallest mountain in the world depending on which metric you use. Kuwait’s record refers to an air temperature, detected – as per international standards – 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) above ground and in the shade.
With this in mind, the hottest ground temperature was recorded, once again, in Death Valley on July 15, 1972 – a staggering 93.9°C (201.0°F). Although this is not as “official” as California’s current air temperature record, there is good evidence to suggest that this may be the highest natural ground surface temperature in recorded history.
The only way you’d get something hotter by the same measure would be to stick a thermometer into freshly cooled lava. Considering that lava can reach temperatures of up to 1,200°C (2,192°F), you’ll be hard pressed to find a thermometer hardy enough not to merely explode on contact.
Death Valley, California. Travel Stock/Shutterstock