A city in northern India is currently in the midst of a scorching heatwave, as the temperature smashes the national heat record at a sweltering 51°C (124°F) this week. Recorded in the city of Phalodi in the desert state of Rajasthan, there are fears that the heatwave may lead to repeats of the environmental disaster seen last year when thousands of people died in India from dehydration. The government has even stepped in this time and ordered that rivers be diverted to try and prevent such a recurrence.
But how does this record-setting heatwave for India compare with the rest of the world?
Exact temperature measurements around the world is a bit of a contentious issue. With more modern and accurate technology, we’re better able to measure temperature and yet many of the records that still stand today were set decades ago.
The current heatwave in India puts it straight into the top 10 hottest temperatures on record worldwide. It surpasses the hottest temperature ever recorded in Oceania, which was 50.7°C (123.3°F) in South Australia in 1960, but doesn’t make it past the hottest recorded in Latin America, when Mexico hit 52°C (125.6°F) in 1966.
The Middle East, famed for its sand dunes and toasty weather, obviously dominates the list, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Kuwait all being eclipsed by a temperature of 54°C (129.2°F), which was measured in Israel’s Tirat Zvi community in the north-east of the country in 1942.
Death Valley in the US currently holds the record for both the hottest air and ground temperature ever recorded. BrunitaGio/Shutterstock
However, even this was surpassed by Death Valley in the US. On July 10, 1913, the mercury hit an impressive 56.7°C (134°F). The reason why Death Valley got so hot is thought to be due to a combination of its location below sea level, where the dense air acts as a blanket and radiates heat back, as well as the valley's high walls, which trap the rising heat. In contrast, the hottest it ever reached in Antarctica was 15°C (59°F), as recorded at Vanda Station in the western highlands of the continent in 1974.
Yet none of these temperatures even come close to the hottest ground temperature on record. As the ground absorbs much of the Sun’s heat, and then radiates it back, measurements from the ground can reach temperatures much higher than those taken of the air. Effectively, there is more matter in the ground to absorb the heat than there is in the air. Again, it seems the more and more aptly named Death Valley takes the crown, where thermometers in the region's Furnace Creek hit an astonishing 93.9°C (201°F) on July 15, 1972.