63.5°F in Antarctica: Possible Continental Record; 14 Years of Rain in 1 Day in Chile

By Jeff Masters and Bob Henson
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Published: 2:58 PM GMT on March 27, 2015

The warmest temperature ever recorded on the continent of Antarctica may have occurred on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, when the mercury shot up to 63.5°F (17.5°C) at Argentina's Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the previous hottest temperature recorded in Antarctica was 63.3°F (17.4°C) set just one day previously at Argentina's Marambio Base, on a small islet just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Prior to this week's remarkable heat wave, the hottest known temperature in Antarctica was the 62.8°F (17.1°C) recorded at Esperanza Base on April 24, 1961. (The World Meteorological Organization—WMO—has not yet certified that this week's temperatures are all-time weather records for Antarctica, though the Argentinian weather service has verified that the temperatures measured at Esperanza Base and Marambio Base were the highest ever measured at each site.) A new all-time temperature record for an entire continent is a rare event, and Weather Underground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has full details in his latest post.


Figure 1. Argentina's Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula: the hottest place in Antarctica. Image credit: Wikipedia.

The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming spots on Earth. A 2012 Climate Central post by Michael Lemonick documented how while the Earth as a whole warmed up by 1.3°F between 1900 and 2011, the Antarctic Peninsula warmed by 5°, forcing massive ice shelves to disintegrate and penguin colonies to collapse. A 2012 paper in Nature found that the recent warming is faster than 99.7% of any other given 100-year period in the last 2000 years.

New all-time national and territorial heat records set or tied in 2015
So far in 2015, five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history. For comparison, only two nations or territories did so in 2014, and nine did in 2013. The most all-time national heat records in a year was nineteen in 2010 (21 records at the time, but two have been broken since.) Since 2010, 46 nations or territories (out of a total of 235) have set or tied all-time heat records, and four have set all-time cold temperature records. Since each of those years ranked as one of the top twelve warmest years in Earth's recorded history, this sort of disparity in national heat and cold records is to be expected. Most nations do not maintain official databases of extreme temperature records, so the national temperature records reported here are in many cases not official. I use as my source for international weather records Maximiliano Herrera, one of the world's top climatologists, who maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website. If you reproduce this list of extremes, please cite Maximiliano Herrera as the primary source of the weather records. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt maintains a database of these national heat and cold records for 235 nations and territories on wunderground.com's extremes page. Here are the national heat and cold records set so far in 2015:

Antarctica set a new territorial heat record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) at Esperanza Base on March 24. Previous record: 17.4°C (63.3°F) at Marambio Base, set the previous day.
Equatorial Guinea set a new national heat record of 35.5°C (95.9°F) at Bata on March 17. Previous record:  35.3°C (95.5°F) at Malabo in February 1957.
Ghana tied the national record of highest temperature with 43.0°C (109.4°F)  at Navrongo on February 12.
Wallis and Futuna Territory (France) set a new territorial heat record with 35.5°C (95.9°F) on January 19 at Futuna Airport.
Samoa tied its national heat record with 36.5°C (97.7°F) on January 20 at Asau. Previously record: same location, in December 1977.


Figure 2. Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Unusually heavy thunderstorms and torrential rains that began on Tuesday have caused destructive flooding that has killed seven and left nineteen others missing. (AP Photo/Aton Chile)

Amazing rains in the Chilean desert
Unwelcome rains fell this week in Earth's driest place--Chile's Atacama Desert--causing destructive flooding that has left seven people dead and at nineteen others missing. Antofagasta, which averaged just 3.8 mm of precipitation per year between 1970 - 2000, and has a long-term average of 1.7 mm of precipitation per year, received a deluge of 24.4 mm (0.96 inches) during the 24 hour period ending at 8 am EDT March 26. That's over fourteen years of rain in one day! The rains were due to an unusually strong and persistent "cut-off" low pressure system that was trapped over Chile by the exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure that brought the warmest temperatures on record to Antarctica early in the week. A cold front associated with the cut-off low hit the Andes Mountains, dumping rains over soils with very little vegetation (due to the dry climate.) Unusually warm ocean temperatures approximately 1°C (1.8°F) above average off of the coast meant that high amounts of water vapor were available to fuel the storm and generate exceptionally heavy rains. Heavy precipitation events are common in Chile during El Niño events, like we are experiencing now. El Niño brings warmer than average waters to the Pacific coast of South America where Chile lies.



Video 1. Raging flood waters sweep through one of the driest places on Earth, Chile’s Atacama Desert, on March 25, 2015, after fourteen years’ worth of rain (0.96”) fell in one day. Thanks go to wunderground member ChrisHamburg for posting this link in my blog comments.

This week’s WunderPoster: Double red rainbow
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve seen a double red rainbow, the phenomenon highlighted in this week’s WunderPoster. This is a special case of the faint secondary rainbow that can sometimes be seen above a primary rainbow, with the sequence of colors reversed from top to bottom. Any rainbow may take on a primarily reddish tint if it occurs very late or very early in the day, when the sun is low on the horizon. The low angle means that sunlight travels through a larger swath of atmosphere. Shorter wavelengths (blues and violets) are more likely to be filtered out, leaving the longer wavelengths (reds and oranges) to predominate.

All WunderPosters can be downloaded in formats suitable for posters or postcards. There’s still one more week for you to provide photographic inspiration for a new WunderPoster, as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Weather Underground. The deadline for submissions is April 2. Our “picture yourself here” website has all the details.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jeff Masters and Bob Henson


Red rainbow (g0lden)
Red rainbow, by g0lden
Red Rainbow, Teasdale, UT (Richochet)
Red Rainbow, Teasdale, UT, by Richochet
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About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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