Tech by VICE

Scorching Temperatures Just Set the Middle East's Heat Records on Fire

Man, it's a hot one.

by Sarah Emerson
Jul 22 2016, 8:16pm

Image: Flickr/Mario Micklisch

Unless you've been catatonic for the past seven months, you know that temperatures in 2016 have continuously skyrocketed. And now, I'm terrified to report that our planet is well on its way to becoming an actual inferno, as record-breaking heat records seem to indicate.

Yesterday, temperatures in Mitribah, Kuwait smashed through the Middle East's already scorching heat records. As Weather Underground meteorologists note, Mitribah got as hot as 129.2°F (54°C) on Thursday, according to the weather information service OGIMET. If confirmed, this would be the hottest-ever temperature on Earth documented outside of Death Valley, California, which reached an astonishing 129.2°F (54°C) on July 10, 1913.

Earlier this week, Motherboard editor Kate Lunau wrote about the unprecedented climate anomalies that have been plaguing 2016. According to NASA, "in 2016, every month from January through June has set a record for the warmest month, globally, in modern recordkeeping—stretching back to 1880." And as the climate in Kuwait underscores, we've reached an atmospheric tipping point. If you haven't already, now would be a reasonable time to panic.

Death Valley National Park, California. Image: Flickr/Esther Lee

Weather historian Christopher C. Burt believes that Mitribah's temperature reading was legit. Like all world records, when it comes to the hottest temperature, things can get… heated. As of now, Death Valley reigns supreme, but that doesn't mean that other locations haven't vied for the title. In 1922, El Azizia, Libya claimed to have hit 136°F (58°C), though this measurement remains highly contested. A reading from Tirat Tsvi, Israel in 1942 barely surpassed Death Valley's high at 129.2°F (54°C), but an investigation prompted by the World Meteorological Organization suggests that experts got the measurement wrong by a full degree.

Yet, it's worth noting that even the current record has warranted speculation. In a separate blog post for Weather Underground, Burt wrote: "[Death Valley's] record has been scrutinized perhaps more than any other in the United States. I don't have much more to add to the debate aside from my belief it is most likely not a valid reading when one looks at all the evidence."

Regardless, this week's heat wave has already extended to neighboring Basrah, Iraq, which reported record-breaking highs of 129.2°F (54°C) today—matching Mitribah for actual hell on Earth.

So what does this all mean? Some temperature anomalies can be explained by the natural phenomenon known as El Niño, which causes period warming to occur all over the globe. But scientists also suspect that climate change has exacerbated El Niño's effects. If true, this could be the start of an atmospheric feedback loop that charts us on a destructive path toward accelerated global warming.

And unfortunately, in the near future, we can expect not only higher temps, but also more (and deadly) flooding, wildfire, hurricanes, and drought. If you're not scared, you should be.