Record temps continue on land and in the water for 2023

Record temps: Sun sets in orange sky over rows of city buildings from foreground to horizon.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Meiying Lee in Taipei, Taiwan, captured this image on July 8, 2023. Meiying wrote: “Under the radiant glow of the orange sunset, the silhouettes of these buildings resemble an urban jungle.” Thank you, Meiying! In the Northern Hemisphere, high temperatures are breaking records this summer. Read more about the record temps below.

Record temps in summer 2023

Records continue to be exceeded as the summer of 2023 in the Northern Hemisphere is off the charts. And it appears we’re in hot water, quite literally. We see it in the sea water around Florida reaching hot tub temperatures, to North Atlantic sea surface temperatures that break new territory, to the Antarctic – where it’s winter – continuing to lose ice coverage. Meanwhile, on land, more high temperature records are set every day. With this in mind, we’ve collected some of the recent records for you here. And it’s only mid-July. Indeed, with half of the summer left, we can expect new soaring temperature records to be reached.

North American records

The southern tier of states may be used to hot weather, but this summer is at another level. To be sure, not only are they breaking high temperatures, they’re also breaking records for the number of days the highs persist. For example, Phoenix, Arizona, set a record for the longest span of days with highs above 110 F (43.3 C). As of July 25, they were at 26 days and counting (the old record was 18 days from 1974). In addition, on July 19, 2023, Phoenix had its highest low temperature ever of 97 F (36.1 C). People have been getting 3rd degree burns from contact with metal objects or from falling onto the pavement. At least seven have died.

Miami, Florida, hit a record of 44 days with a heat index above 100 F. In fact, the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) issued its first ever excessive heat advisory for Miami on July 17, 2023.

El Paso, Texas, crushed their record of consecutive days with triple digit heat. As of July 25, the city is currently at 40 days straight and counting.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 F (56.6 C) in Death Valley, California, from 1913. However, the hottest reliably recorded high temperature was 130 F (54.4 C), also in Death Valley, which it hit both in August 2020 and July 2021. In this case, the national park’s highest temperature came just shy of tying the record on July 16, hitting 128 F (53.3 C).

A heatwave in Europe

Europe has been enduring a heatwave for much of July. On July 18, 2023, Rome, Italy, experienced its highest temperature in recorded history. The mercury hit 42.9 C, or 109 F. In contrast, the previous high was 105 F. In addition, Sicily got up to a baking 46.3 C (115 F). Figueres, Spain, also hit a new high record of 45.3 C (113 F), a record for the Catalonia region of Spain.

High temperatures in Asia

China’s highest recorded temperature on record came on July 16, 2023, with 52.2 C (126 F) in Sanbao. It was also the hottest temperature ever recorded north of 40 degrees north latitude. In comparison, the new record tops the country’s previous all-time high by 1.7 C (3 F). Beijing, China’s capital, has suffered through a record-breaking four weeks of temperatures above 35 C (95 F). This exceeds the 23-year-old record of 26 consecutive days of temperatures above 35 C (95 F).

The Persian Gulf International Airport located in Iran had a heat index of 152 F (66.7 C) on July 16, 2023. Remember that the heat index is the “feels like” temperature and not the actual air temperature.

Record temps endanger coral reefs

And, it’s not just the air and land that have been baking in the northern summer of 2023.

Sensors in the waters off the coast of Florida have seen higher-than-average temperatures, too. According to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, the coral reefs in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are under an Alert Level 2, the highest category. Coral reefs in this region are facing bleaching threats due to stress from the hot waters.

Derek Manzello, director of Coral Reef Watch, explained why bleaching is a concern in the warm waters off Florida:

If ocean temperatures are higher than the maximum monthly average, for a month or more, especially during the warmest part of the year – even by as little as 1-2 degrees Celsius (2-3 degrees Fahrenheit) – corals will experience bleaching.

Bleached coral doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dead. Manzello said:

Corals can recover from bleaching if the heat stress subsides, but the corals that are able to recover frequently have impaired growth and reproduction, and are susceptible to disease for two to four years after recovery … If the heat stress does not subside, the coral will die.

You can read more about the coral reef situation here.

In hot water

The temperatures in the North Atlantic are hotter than normal, and even in the Antarctic, where it’s winter, sea ice continues to melt. Experts said the sea ice in Antarctica is undergoing a five-sigma event, meaning that it’s a 1-in-7.5-million-year event. Normally in Antarctica, the sea ice declines in summer and returns in winter, but this winter the ice has continued to retreat.

Have you heard of wet bulb temperature?

Have you heard of wet bulb temperatures?

If you haven’t yet, you will.

Meteorologists are beginning to speak of wet bulb temperatures. It’s a a way of expressing the effect of both temperature and humidity combined. Wet bulb temperatures are becoming increasingly important in our warming world, because they indicate temperatures in relation to what the human body can bear.

Consider that humans cool themselves by sweating. If the temperature is too high, relative to humidity – in other words, if the wet bulb temperature is too high – a human being can’t survive in the open air. And, research suggests that – for some parts of Earth, and for short periods at a time – we might already be nearing the threshold values for human survivability, in terms of temperature and humidity.

So, what is the “threshold” or “critical” wet bulb temperature for humans? A March 2022 statement from scientists at Penn State explaned:

It has been widely believed that a 35 degrees C wet-bulb temperature (equal to 95 degrees F at 100% humidity or 115 F at 50% humidity) was the maximum a human could endure before they could no longer adequately regulate their body temperature, which would potentially cause heat stroke or death over a prolonged exposure …

But in their new study, the researchers found that the actual maximum wet-bulb temperature is lower – about 31 degrees C wet-bulb or 87 degrees F at 100% humidity – even for young, healthy subjects.

The temperature for older populations, who are more vulnerable to heat, is likely even lower.

As you can see, we’re dangerously close to the threshold wet bulb temperature already. In some places, we’ve already reached it for short periods.

Read more: What is wet-bulb temperature? And what it means in a warming world

Bottom line: Areas all around the Northern Hemisphere are suffering through record temperatures as the summer of 2023 brings extreme heat.

July 26, 2023

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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