Following years of tireless investigation, the World Meteorological Organization last week announced that two recent temperature readings have been accepted among the hottest recorded on Earth.
One of the scorching marks came from the Middle East, the other from South Asia.
It hit 129 degrees (plus or minus 0.1 degrees uncertainty) in Mitribah, Kuwait, on July 21, 2016, and 128.7 degrees (plus or minus 0.4 degrees uncertainty) in Turbat, Pakistan, on May 28, 2017.
“The Mitribah, Kuwait temperature is now accepted by the WMO as the highest temperature ever recorded for the continental region of Asia,” the organization wrote in a statement. It continued, “The two observations are the third (tied within uncertainty limits) and fourth highest WMO-recognized temperature extremes.”
These are the highest recognized temperatures in 76 years — and, for one of them at least, perhaps even of all time.
Notably, the WMO list of highest global temperatures does not include a 129.2 degree temperature recorded in Furnace Creek at Death Valley, California, on June 30, 2013. But there is a reason.
That location was even hotter in 1913 when it reportedly hit 134 degrees. This temperature is recognized as the hottest recorded on Earth. But some experts question its validity. It was recently described as “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective” in a detailed analysis.
It is a similar story for the planet’s second-highest recognized temperature, which is 131 degrees from Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931, which also is Africa’s hottest temperature. This record has “serious credibility issues,” according to Christopher Burt, an expert on extreme weather data.
We asked Randall Cerveny, chief rapporteur of the WMO committee for evaluating climate extremes, why the Death Valley reading in 2013 is not officially considered among the hottest recorded temperatures. Even if you consider the 1913 Death Valley and 1931 Tunisia readings legitimate, the 2013 Death Valley reading should still rank third hottest.
“The WMO does not verify a record through its extreme evaluation process unless it is a new global, hemispheric or continental extreme record,” Cerveny responded in an email. “The Death Valley 2013 temperature was not proposed to the WMO as an extreme at any of those categories,” given it was not as high as the 1913 record at that same location.
Considering the questions that swirl around two hottest recorded temperatures (Death Valley in 1913 and Tunisia in 1931), the Death Valley (2013) and Kuwait (2016) temperatures could in fact be the highest reliably measured on record. Since it is unclear whether the 2013 Death Valley reading will ever be formally recognized and the 1913 reading invalidated, we may never know for sure.